Week 6 reading

Word learning / frequency learning

The plan for week 6

This week we are looking at a paper first-authored by my former PhD student Vanesa Ferdinand, presenting work she did as part of her PhD with me and Simon Kirby. The paper describes a frequency-learning experiment, where participants are exposed to variants (in the linguistic condition, synonymous labels for objects) during an observation phase and then attempt to reproduce that variation (e.g. by labelling objects using those labels) in the production phase. There is some evidence that language learners tend to dislike this kind of free variation, and free variation tends to drop out of natural languages, suggesting that these two observations might be linked; maybe languages lose free variation because learners are biased against it. In this paper we were looking at what drives that bias against variation - what factors influence whether participants will faithfully reproduce the variation in their input, or regularize (e.g. by over-producing the most frequent variant). We manipulated domain (are you learning frequencies of linguistic variants, or non-linguistic variants?) and load (are you tracking a single frequency distribution, or multiple distributions) to see how these affected regularization, and in particular whether regularization was specific to linguistic stimuli. As usual, in this week’s practical you’ll get a chance to look at a similar frequency-learning experiment in jsPsych.

Reading tasks for this week


As you read this paper and make note of any questions, criticisms or ideas it gives you, and be prepared to discuss these in our reading group session. Once you have read the paper, you also need to work through this week’s practical task.

A couple of things to note as you work through the paper:


All aspects of this work are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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