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A simple, biologically plausible feature detector for language acquisition

Endress, A. (2019). A simple, biologically plausible feature detector for language acquisition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01494


Language has a complex grammatical system we still have to understand computationally and biologically (Hauser et al., 2002; Yang, 2013). However, some evolutionarily ancient mechanisms have been repurposed for grammar (Dehaene & Cohen, 2007; Endress, Cahill, et al., 2009; Endress, Nespor, et al., 2009; Fitch, 2017) so that we can use insight from other taxa into possible circuit level mechanisms of grammar. Drawing upon recent evidence for the importance of disinhibitory circuits across taxa and brain regions (Chevalier & Deniau, 1990; Letzkus et al., 2015; Hangya et al., 2014; Xu et al., 2013; Goddard et al., 2014; Mysore & Knudsen, 2012; Koyama et al., 2016; Koyama & Pujala, 2018), I suggest a simple circuit that explains the acquisition of core grammatical rules used in 85% of the world’s languages (Rubino, 2013): grammatical rules based on sameness/difference relations. This circuit acts as a sameness-detector. Different items are suppressed through inhibition, but presenting two identical items leads to inhibition of inhibition. The items are thus propagated for further processing. This sameness-detector thus acts as a feature detector for a grammatical rule. I suggest that having a set of feature detectors for elementary grammatical rules might make language acquisition feasible based on relatively simple computational mechanisms.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the author’s final version, and that the article has been accepted for publication in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Publisher Keywords: Language Acquisition; Rule Learning; Perceptual or Memory Primitives; Disinhibition; Circuit Motifs; Reduplication
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Accepted Version
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