مصاحبه با Prof. Adele Goldberg

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Hi, and welcome. At our interview today we're very honored to have with us
here at the Doelen Hotel in Leiden, Professor Adele Goldberg
of Princeton University. You're a professor of psychology,
but you're also a linguist. So how do these two fields merge, where do they come together and
how does your research reflect that? >> Well that's a good question,
if you Google linguistics cognitive science you see that linguistics
is often defined as a cognitive science, meaning it's a science about psychology,
about an aspect of our knowledge, of language, and
that's what I'm interested in. How language is learned,
how it's processed, how it's represented. What's the relationship between form and
meaning? And those are all real
psychological questions. >> So your most commonly known for
the constructionist approach. Could you tell us a bit more about this? >> So there are different
ways to approach language and my focus is really on what I like to
call the constructionist approach, and by calling it constructionist,
it really has two separate meanings. One is that it uses the word construction. And a construction is defined to
be a learned pairing of form and some kind of function. So constructions include
things like idioms, like the more the merrier or going great guns. They also include
words because words are clearly learned pairings of form with some kind
of function, they have a meaning. And it also includes more
traditional kinds of constructions. Like the passive construction, or
the relative clause construction. The other meaning of constructionist
is that people construct language. And that's the part that's
somewhat controversial but that I think there's growing evidence for. That language is constructed. >> So, could you give an example of that? >> So there's a controversy in
the field about whether anything at all is innately specified
to be specific to language, so are we born expecting to
encounter nouns and verbs? Are we born to expect certain word orders. And a lot of people have
assumed that we are. Part of the reason for that was that
people couldn't imagine how we could possibly learn all the complex knowledge
that we have when we know a language. Children seem to do it
relatively effortlessly. Whereas adults often find it hard. And that was very mysterious for
a long time. But, these days, we have a lot more,
a lot better understanding of how language is learnable on
the basis of domain general. That is processes that are not specific
to knowledge, to language, sorry. So for example we know that the input to
children is very repetitive and is also structured in that it's,
it's more simple than language to adults. We know much more about the fact
that children of all ages and adults keep track of the probabilities
between sequences of syllables and pictures of anything
that's patterned. We try to anticipate what the next
element in the pattern is, and that helps us break
into language learning. >> So a lot of it has to do
with frequency, I would assume. >> The frequency- >> Right, so frequency is important,
but I think sometimes the emphasis on frequency is overplayed, so
you know clearly there are highly frequent words that children
learn relatively late like "the". So I think frequency plays some role,
but we also, when we learn a language we care about what's informative,
what's relevant, what we care about. And so, that's why there's this emphasis in constructionist
approaches on the function of language, so we're not really trying to learn some
symbolic abstract algebraic system. That's not the child's goal. If you think of it from
a child's perspective, it seems pretty clear that a child's
trying to unpack a message, given a particular form, for
the sake of comprehension. And they also need to choose
the forms they want to use if they have a message that they want
to convey, for the sake of production. And in order to do that,
they have to link the forms and the functions in their language. Which means that their goal is really to
learn the constructions that are available in that language. >> So, the learning of the language
of the child really stems from their want or their need to communicate. >> Absolutely. That's exactly right and
I think that's hugely important. Now that's not uncontroversial but, that's
the perspective that we think is correct. So there's a growing body of
knowledge from experimental work that indicates that kids are acutely sensitive
to the intentions of other people, to what,
to the context of what's being said. We also have a vast memory for
language and other things that wasn't fully appreciated you know,
until the last 20 years. So, right, the idea's that we learn,
these pairings of form and function in order to communicate, and some of them,
you know, are idiomatic, so, for example, there's you know, Orange is
The New Black is a popular TV show. But that's a play on more
traditional examples. I think maybe gray is the new
black was the original example. >> Okay.
>> And now it's very common, right? So we say things like,
you know, 40 is the new 50. 40, no, 50 is the new 40, right? >> Yeah, yeah. >> And in order to understand that, you know,
you have to understand quite a bit, right? >> Yeah. >> You take the the second word
like 40 or black and you recognize that that's a standard that was associated
with some very common understanding. Some actually fairly large
bit of world knowledge, like, when you say 40 is the new 50,
you mean, what am I saying? I got that backwards again, didn't I? 50 is the new 40. >> Yeah. >> Right.
So when we think of 40 we think of lots of things. What you're capable of,
what you're not capable of. And so, the second thing has this world knowledge associated with it and
the first thing is substituted in. We know that about the idiom. Nobody tells us explicitly,
but we figure this out. >> Yeah.
>> And we know vast numbers of these. We know thousands of these kinds of
semi-idiomatic phrases with open slots. >> Yeah. >> And I would imagine that it's actually
very hard to really pin point what is, if you say, 50 is the new 40, and
you say, okay, so what was 40 then? I wouldn't be able to,
to really specify it. >> That's right. And well, you're right. And it's hard to articulate, so
a lot of our knowledge is implicit. And it also depends on context, right. So, you know, usually you would use that
in a context where 50 has already been brought up in the conversation
in some way, and so in that context, it makes more sense. But, a huge amount of our
knowledge of language is implicit. We don't know that we have it. >> So are there any constraints
on the constructions that native speakers can
build in their language? >> Right, so there are actually lots of ways in which
the constructions are constrained. They're constrained,
by our working memory. By different processing demands, by communicative goals, by other
constructions that already exist in the language that help shape
what new constructions are formed. One thing that our lab has focused on a
lot recently are the kinds of restrictions that aren't ruled out by any
general facts about the language. So there are certain things that native
English speakers find a little odd, like explain me this sounds odd. It makes perfect sense. Right? And the equivalent in
dutch is acceptable right? >> It would be maybe something like
vertel me dit, or something similar. >> Okay, and
there are lots of cases like this, so in English, another example is that
it sounds odd to say, the afraid boy. People avoid that formulation,
you can say the scared boy. And so there's nothing wrong
semantically with the meaning of it. There's also nothing wrong with the sound
pattern of it, so you can say the astute boy, or the adult boy, but
it does sound odd to say the afraid boy. So, one thing we're interested
in is how children come to know that, to avoid saying,
explain me this, or the afraid boy. And we're also newly interested
in why it is that second language learners who learn English as
adults have more trouble with this. Why do they find it more difficult
than eight year old native speakers? >> So, with respect to this, how do you, how do you set
up an experiment to do that? Do you form a list of sentences and
then get some kids to say them, or? >> And do you set up
acceptability judgement tasks? >> Yes, so there are acceptability judgement
tasks that you can do with children. Some of them were pioneered by,
a collaborator of mine, Ben Umbridge. But our hypothesis is
that people learn to avoid them because they, there exists
context in which that formulation, that pattern, would have been preferred,
could have been expected. If, systematically,
some other formulation is heard instead, it statistically pre-empts
the undesired form. So, that is, if there are contexts
where a child might expect to hear something like the afraid boy. But they systematically hear that boy that
was afraid then they can learn over time that you don't use afraid in
the first position prenominally. >> So, do you see with younger children,
or also native speakers, that they actually do
use this construction? >> Well, yes. So, this takes a while for
kids to learn, and kids do overextend constructions early on. And young kids do say things like,
the afraid boy, or they don't usually say,
well they might say, explain me something. So it takes time to learn it and that
makes sense because you really need to encounter those situations where
you might've expected it and then be able to compare what you actually
hear with what you expected to hear. And that seems to be,
that seems to take years to learn. It depends on the particular
pattern though. So for words it's very simple right,
you learn not to say goed, like, today I'm going, yesterday I goed,
right, that's not acceptable English. And we know that the way you learn not to
say goed is that there are contexts where you might have expected it and you systematically hear went,
and so went pre-empts goed. And so the suggestion is that same
idea scales up to these other examples like the afraid boy or
explain me something. >> This really reminds me of
prescriptivism traditions. >> Oh, well. >> Maybe I'm totally wrong. >> Okay.
>> But it just reminds me of forms like snuck and dove and
maybe the split infinitive, or. >> Oh okay, well,
I'm glad you brought that up. Linguists, no linguist
is a prescriptivist. Meaning we don't care what grammar
teachers say you should say. Languages change,
there are different dialects. There's nothing better or
worse about any particular dialect. So, we're not prescriptivists,
but what I'm describing is an implicit judgment that native
speakers have; they demonstrably have. It's not that they were
told not to say it. And it's not even that there's
anything objectively wrong about it. It's just that, for
some reason, we disprefer it. >> I sort of understand though where
you're going with this because, of course, what prescriptivists aim at is a certain variation
that somehow exists in language. So, people have somehow picked up
a certain pattern that may be judged to be wrong by other people, that's not,
you know, and it doesn't really matter that if we think that it's not wrong,
but the pattern must have risen somehow. So wouldn't that be
sort of a side path? >> And people would also, in the end, choose, maybe they would decide
not to use a certain construction. >> Well the prescriptivists
tend not to be successful. >> Yeah. >> You know, we've, children were told for generations not to strand
prepositions at the end of sentences. So we were told not to say things
like who did you give the book to? But every child does. In fact, my son started to use
to whom would you give the book? And I warned him that he wouldn't have any
friends if he kept speaking like that. [LAUGH] You have to strand prepositions. Otherwise you sound incredibly stilted. Prescriptivism really doesn't work. So these are cases that are not,
you're never told they're wrong, and nobody cares that they aren't said,
really. People aren't even aware
that they aren't said. It's just that native speakers,
as part of learning your language, somehow learn how to avoid them. And there's a question how do
you learn to avoid things that, you know, no one tells you are wrong. >> All right. Well, thank you Professor Goldberg for
this wonderful interview. Well, we hope to see you online
where we can discuss more.

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