Heidi Getz, Ph.D.
In natural languages, closed class items (e.g., the) determine the structure of a sentence. With Elissa Newport, I am studying how language learners analyze these items. We have discovered that learning is biased: people treat closed class items as more likely than open class items to occur in a predictable context. Now, we are asking how this bias shapes learners' mental representations of language.
Every language has its own set of rules for how to form sentences. To learn those rules, children have to search for patterns in the sentences they hear. This project asks: What kinds of patterns do learners search for? How do they organize their knowledge of these patterns? And how does knowledge of patterns develop into hierarchically structured representations of language?
A mystery in language acquisition is how children acquire language despite the Poverty of the Stimulus. For example, certain aspects of grammar, like wanna, have seemed impossible to learn from the input. But I have argued that the input may appear impoverished only because we are looking at the learning problem from a single perspective. There may not be enough input for a specific learning approach to work, but if we think creatively, we might find another approach for which input actually is adequate—as I did for wanna.
This work focuses on neural entrainment to the phrases of language. We asked how this brain response emerges as people learn the phrase structure of a miniature language.
Before grad school, I worked at the Center for Aphasia Research and Rehabilitation. In some of our work, we studied phonological alexia, a reading disorder marked by the ability to read content words but not function words (e.g. patients can read hat but not that).