Seda Demirel, A Computational Study on Accusativity and Ergativity

M.S. Candidate: Seda Demirel
Program: Cognitive Science
Date: 22.04.2024
Place: B-116

Abstract: English is defined as an accusative language with Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) syntactic order. In this study, if children are exposed to hypothetical English, i.e. ergative English, rather than accusative English in the language acquisition process, what could happen is investigated by using the linguistic annotations of a child-directed speech data set taken from the Eve fragment (Brown, 1973) of the Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES) database (MacWhinney, 2000).

Based on the data set, English grammar is constructed with the syntactic and semantic structures of the words. According to this grammar, correct pairs of sentences and their logical forms are generated. Subsequently, several models are developed to derive accusative sentences from the grammar. After training, the best model is expected to prioritize correct pairs in the derivation results. Two experiments are conducted with this model: One involves accusative forms of all the verbs and ergative forms of only the transitive verbs, while the other includes accusative and ergative forms of all the verbs. During these experiments, a comparative analysis is conducted between accusative and ergative forms to determine which category will be prominent in acquiring accusative and ergative languages.

The rationale behind this study is that each system of grammatical relation (accusative or ergative) is equally likely for children in the language acquisition process. Their exposure to particular linguistic experiences decides which category comes to the forefront and which category falls behind. In this regard, the study aims to reveal that there may not be a universal parameter governing language acquisition.