Modelling Syntactic Category Learning

Website Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics ( Language Development Department )

Project description
We are seeking an intern to help with the Department’s child language research. This project aims to use computational modelling techniques to investigate how children learn syntactic categories (such as noun, verb or adjective) from the linguistic input of their caretakers. Relevant questions for this project include: what is the information from the (linguistic) input that learners could exploit to learn syntactic categories, when are these categories formed, and how do they interact with learning further words (and further categories). For instance, it is known that most of the initial productions of children are nouns, but it is hard to establish when or how do children go beyond the lexical representations and abstract the noun category, and whether this in turn aids learning subsequent words (possibly leading to the observed “vocabulary spurt” between 18 and 24 months, Reznick&Goldfield, 1992). The available data for this project consists of transcriptions of child-directed parental speech and video recordings of naturalistic play between children and caretakers. The possibilities include (but are not restricted to) probabilistic models, neural networks or other unsupervised learning methods.


Good written and verbal English.
Currently studying Artificial Intelligence, Computer Sciences, Linguistics, Psychology or a related degree.
An interest in artificial intelligence, cognitive science and/or language (e.g. a cognitive scientist, linguist or psychologist with some programming experience, or a computer scientist with an interest in cognition or (psycho)linguistics).
Excellent attention to detail and organizational skills.
Capable of working independently.

Time investment:
Position available for a minimum of three months
Between 16 and 39 hours per week (negotiable)

Full training will be provided
Depending on the requirements of your University, the internship will contribute towards your degree. Unfortunately, the MPI cannot contribute to travel or living expenses.


Application procedure
Please send the following documents by e-mail to Raquel G. Alhama at [   rgalhama  @  mpi  .nl   ]:

— A cover letter outlining your motivation to apply and detailing how you fit the requirements above;
— A current CV;
— Details of your University’s internship requirements (including required time investment and the name of the internship coordinator);
— Name and contact details of two referees, at least one of whom must be an academic referee.


For more information about the position and/or relevant literature, please contact Raquel G. Alhama at rgalhama  @  mpi  .nl.

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