Linking theories are cognitive representations that allow us to link conceptual information with language structure so we know how to interpret an utterance. For example, we interpret “The little girl blicked the kitten on the stairs” as an event involving a little girl doing something to a kitten and that event happening on the stairs (as opposed to, say, a kitten doing something to the stairs, and that event happening on a little girl). Proposals for the nature of linking theories vary on (i) how conceptual information is used (fixed categories vs. relativized), and (ii) whether the links are innate or derived from language experience.

In her talk, Pearl will use an integrated quantitative framework involving realistic child input, child behavioral data, and developmental modeling to determine which proposals are compatible with children's behavior at different ages. Her findings support either innate links or derived links, but find only relativized conceptual information is consistently compatible with children's behavior. She also uses empirically-grounded developmental modeling to investigate concrete proposals for how children could successfully derive linking knowledge from their input. She finds support for relativized conceptual information over fixed categories.


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