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Bias against word orders that violate universals

Research Achievements

Bias against word orders that violate universals

That the grammars of the world's languages share many deep properties, *universals*, has long been explained within theoretical linguistics as a consequence of the hypothesis that languages violating universals are unlearnable. Given its central importance, it is surprising that there has been little experimental work testing this hypothesis. Recent experiments addressing experimenter-designed phonological grammars for artificial languages have shown that learners are indeed biased to avoid sound systems that violate universals. The strongest claims concerning universals, however, have concerned not phonology but syntax. In syntax, these learning experiments are considerably more difficult to design, and IGERT trainee Jennifer Culbertson is among the very first to succeed in this area, showing that learners are in fact biased against word orders (involving nouns, adjectives, and numerals) that violate universals. This constitutes a major step in the development of experimental syntax.