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Creating LanguageIntegrating Evolution, Acquisition, and Processing$
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Morten H. Christiansen and Nick Chater

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262034319

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262034319.001.0001

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The Now-or-Never Processing Bottleneck

The Now-or-Never Processing Bottleneck

Chapter:
(p.93) 4 The Now-or-Never Processing Bottleneck
Source:
Creating Language
Author(s):

Morten H. Christiansen

Nick Chater

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262034319.003.0004

Chapter 4 discusses how the immediacy of language processing provides a fundamental constraint on theories of language acquisition and evolution. Language happens in the here-and-now. Because memory is fleeting, new material will rapidly obliterate previous material, creating a Now-or-Never bottleneck. To successfully deal with the continual deluge of linguistic information, the brain must compress and recode its input into “chunks” as rapidly as possible. It must deploy all available information predictively to ensure that local linguistic ambiguities are dealt with Right-First-Time; once the original input is lost, there is no way to recover it. Similarly, language learning must also occur in the here-and-now. This implies that language acquisition involves learning how to process linguistic structure, rather than inducing a grammar. Incoming language is recoded incrementally into chunks of increasing granularity, from sounds to constructions, and beyond. Importantly, several key properties of language follow naturally from this perspective, including the local nature of linguistic dependencies, the quasi-regular nature of linguistic structure, multiple levels of linguistic representation, and duality of patterning (i.e., that meaningful units are composed of smaller elements).

Keywords:   Language processing, Now-or-Never bottleneck, Chunking, Predictive processing, Incremental processing, Linguistic dependencies, Linguistic structure, Levels of linguistic representation, Duality of patterning

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