Nativism and Empiricism in the Acquisition of Logical Connective Words


3 to 4:30 p.m., Nov. 17, 2023
Time/date: Friday Nov 17, 3:00-4:30
Location: Comm 311
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Title: How to win the debate: Nativism and Empiricism in the Acquisition of Logical Connective Words
Abstract: This talk reviews the old debate between nativism and empiricism using novel data and modeling on children's acquisition of disjunction and negation. I first suggest that nativism and empiricism can be construed as "stances". I present "logical nativism" as the stance that logical concepts such as negation, conjunction, and disjunction as well as some of their linguistic properties are innate and part of the language faculty. "Logical empiricism", on the other hand, is the stance that such concepts and their linguistic properties are learned. I first take an empiricist stance and present experimental, corpus, and modeling evidence on children's acquisition of disjunction suggesting that a particular nativist constraint on the semantics of disjunction need not be innate. Then I take a more nativist stance and present corpus evidence suggesting that contrary to what previous empiricist or constructivist accounts suggest, negation may be an abstract and context-general concept present from early childhood. I finish by discussing my seemingly contradictory stances, arguing that changing stances is not as undesirable as it may sound and can potentially help us make better progress and in some sense "win" the nativist-empiricist debate.