12. Februar 2020

Setting the stage for prosodic bootstrapping: Using acoustic cues to organize the signal - Juan Manuel Toro


Seminar Room, Wohllebengasse 12-14 / Ground Floor

Juan M. Toro, ICREA - Universitat Pompeu Fabra

I will briefly review three lines of study suggesting that non-human animals can take advantage of acoustic cues present in the signal to extract difficult-to-find regularities. However, humans (but not other animals) seem to benefit from domain-specific representations that guide the discovery of structures during language learning. First, I will present research suggesting that non-human animals readily process prosodic information that has been shown to help human infants acquire some aspects of syntactic structure (e.g. the head-direction parameter) through a process known as prosodic bootstrapping. This suggests that some of the perceptual mechanisms humans use to process the linguistic signal are already present in other animals. A different picture emerges if we study processing advantages that seem to depend on experience with specific stimuli. For example, different studies suggest that there is a processing advantage for musical consonance over dissonance. In fact, humans learn abstract rules more easily over consonant than over dissonant sounds. In contrast, in our experiments, we found no evidence of such processing advantage in non-human animals. They learn equally well abstract rules independently of whether the pattern is implemented over consonant or over dissonant chords. These studies provide support to the idea that general perceptual biases that form the bases for prosodic bootstrapping are already present in other animals. However, in humans, such biases are combined with domain-specific representations that guide the discovery of linguistic structures.