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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Investigating the Presence of NegFirst Biases in Learning and Communication


While an apparent tendency for negative markers to appear before the verb has been observed in typology, language acquisition, and language emergence, it remains uncertain what factors may motivate such a preference. The present study uses an artificial language learning paradigm to test the existence of learning asymmetries consistent with Neg-First preferences in English speakers. The study further incorporates a dyadic interaction task to investigate proposals that the Neg-First tendency is driven by communicative factors. Results show that learners overall produced more preverbal negation than was found in the input language, consistent with a Neg-First bias. However, interaction only induced greater preverbal negation use when preverbal negation was the majority word order in the input language. This does not support the proposal that communication generally promotes a Neg-First bias, but is suggestive of greater regularization when a production bias is aligned with a bias to eliminate variability during communication.

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