Language learning: Cues or rules?

Brian MacWhinney, Jared Leinbach, Roman Taraban, Janet McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Child language researchers have often taken gender and case paradigms to be interesting test cases for theories of language learning. In this paper we develop a computational model of the acquisition of the gender, number, and case paradigm for the German definite article. The computational formalism used is a connectionist algorithm developed by Rumelhart, Hinton, and Williams (1986. In D. Rumelhart & J. McClelland (Eds.), Parallel Distributed Processing; Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press). Three models are developed. In the first two, various cues to gender studied by Köpcke and Zubin (1983, Zeitschrift fur germanistiche Linguistik, 11, 166-182; 1984, Linguistiche Berichte, 93, 26-50) are entered by hand. In the third, the simulation is given only the raw phonological features of the stem. Despite the elimination of the hand-crafting of the units, the third model outperformed the first two in both training and generalization. All three models showed a good match to the developmental data of Mills (1986, The acquisition of gender: a study of English and German. Berlin: Springer-Verlag) and MacWhinney (1978, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 43, whole No. 1). Advantages of a connectionist approach over older theories are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-277
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1989


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