Language Learning from Communicative Goals and Linguistic Input
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language Learning from Communicative Goals and Linguistic Input


Children do not learn language from passively analyzing correlations between language and observations, but from interaction with caregivers or peers. The non-nativist approach claims that the main driver of language learning should be to achieve communicative goals. Imitation, on the other hand, is another natural desire that many argue influences language learning. However, there are still gaps in the research on what roles communicative goals and imitating linguistic input play in language acquisition, due to the difficulty of performing comprehensive experiments with human learners. In this paper, we propose a computational framework using simulated experiments that allows us to compare the roles of the two drivers. Specifically, we simulate a two-way communication game between a speaker, corresponding to a language learner, and a listener, corresponding to a caregiver or teacher. The speaker's communicative goals are modeled as rewards for successful completion of a referential game, and imitation is performed by mimicking feedback from the listener. The listener adaptively chooses to give feedback and makes choices based on the speaker's utterances. With empirical results on naturalistic visual and language data, we find that communicative goals play an important role in driving language learning, whereas imitation accelerates the learning process. We also find that (1) models trained with communicative goals tend to use minimal vocabulary and utterances and overextend them to concepts outside the original word meanings; (2) the strategy with which the listener provides feedback also influences the learning results and speed. Code and data for replicating the experiments are available\footnote{\url{}} to spur future research on models for computational studies of language learning.

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