Discovering Conceptual Hierarchy Through Explicit and Implicit Cues in Child-Directed Speech

AbstractIn order for children to understand and reason about the world in a mature fashion, they need to learn that conceptual categories are organized in a hierarchical fashion (e.g., a dog is also an animal). The caregiver linguistic input can play an important role in this learning, and previous studies have documented several cues in parental talk that can help children learn a conceptual hierarchy. However, these previous studies used different datasets and methods which made difficult the systematic comparison of these cues and the study of their relative contribution. Here, we use a large-scale corpus of child-directed speech and a classification-based evaluation method which allowed us to investigate, within the same framework, various cues that varied radically in terms of how explicit the information they offer is. We found the most explicit cues to be too sparse or too noisy to support robust learning (though part of the noise may be due to imperfect operationalization). In contrast, the implicit cues offered, overall, a reliable source of information. Our work confirms the utility of caregiver talk for conveying conceptual information. It provides a stepping stone towards a cognitive model that would use this information in a principled way, possibly leading to testable predictions about children's conceptual development.

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