Generalizing beyond the input: The functions of the constructions matter

Florent Perek, Adele Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
245 Downloads (Pure)


A growing emphasis on statistics in language learning raises the question of whether and when speakers use language in ways that go beyond the statistical regularities in the input. In this study, two groups were exposed to six novel verbs and two novel word order constructions that differed in function: one construction but not the other was exclusively used with pronoun undergoers. The distributional structure of the input was manipulated between groups according to whether each verb was used exclusively in one or the other construction (the lexicalist condition), or whether a minority of verbs was witnessed in both constructions (the alternating condition). Production and judgments results demonstrate that participants tended to generalize the constructions for use in appropriate discourse contexts, ignoring evidence of verb-specific behavior, especially in the alternating condition. Our results suggest that construction learning involves an interaction of witnessed usage together with the functions of the constructions involved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-127
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Early online date16 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • language acquisition
  • artificial language learning
  • novel construction learning
  • statistical learning
  • argument structure
  • generalization


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