A central goal of cognitive science is to understand how the human brain acquires language and uses it to communicate with others. Basic research into understanding human language abilities also holds practical value in areas such as education (where difficulties with language pose a significant barrier for academic and professional success), engagement with social media (where new forms of communication are rapidly developing), and artificial intelligence (where machine learning and other algorithmic methods endow computers with increasingly sophisticated human-language communication). Traditionally, basic research on human language has taken a divide-and-conquer approach, with one part of the research community focused on how children learn languages and the other focused on how adults dynamically comprehend and produce language in real-time. However, exciting new research has bridged this otherwise artificial research divide. Neural and eye-tracking methods have revealed that infants deploy their incomplete understanding of language in real-time, almost as quickly as their adult expert counterparts. Likewise, adults have been found, under specific conditions, to be highly adaptive to language, learning new patterns of speech, new words, and even new syntax from brief exposure. This proposal highlights this new interdisciplinary work and resulting breakthroughs.
The funding will support a special session entitled “Language Acquisition and Language Processing: Finding New Connections” to be held at the 34th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing (March 4-6, 2021), hosted at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The session will include presentations from six eminent researchers who bridge language learning and processing, a poster session dedicated to this theme, and travel awards for young student investigators. By bringing researchers studying language acquisition to the premier conference on adult language processing, the session will permit the cross-fertilization of ideas, spawning new important topics of study within human language.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.