Generalizing beyond the input: The functions of the constructions matter

Florent Perek, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A growing emphasis on statistics in language learning raises the question of whether and when speakers use language in ways that go beyond the statistical regularities in the input. In this study, two groups were exposed to six novel verbs and two novel word order constructions that differed in function: one construction but not the other was exclusively used with pronoun undergoers. The distributional structure of the input was manipulated between groups according to whether each verb was used exclusively in one or the other construction (the lexicalist condition), or whether a minority of verbs was witnessed in both constructions (the alternating condition). Production and judgments results demonstrate that participants tended to generalize the constructions for use in appropriate discourse contexts, ignoring evidence of verb-specific behavior, especially in the alternating condition. Our results suggest that construction learning involves an interaction of witnessed usage together with the functions of the constructions involved.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)108-127
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


  • Argument structure
  • Artificial language learning
  • Generalization
  • Language acquisition
  • Novel construction learning
  • Statistical learning

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