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The Competition Model Brian MacWhinney- CMU. Elizabeth Bates Csaba Pl é h Mich è le Kail Janet McDonald Antonella Devescovi Klaus-Michael K ö pcke Kerry Kilborn Takehiro Ito Ovid Tzeng Judit Osman-S á gi Jeffrey Sokolov Beverly Wulfeck Vera Kempe Arturo Hernandez Ping Li

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the competition model brian macwhinney cmu

The Competition ModelBrian MacWhinney- CMU

Elizabeth Bates Csaba Pléh Michèle Kail

Janet McDonald Antonella Devescovi Klaus-Michael Köpcke

Kerry Kilborn Takehiro Ito Ovid Tzeng

Judit Osman-Sági Jeffrey Sokolov Beverly Wulfeck

Vera Kempe Arturo Hernandez Ping Li

Yoshinori Sasaki

Empirical Results Published in:

MacWhinney, B., & Bates, E. (Eds.) The crosslinguistic study of sentence processing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

15 articles since then

1 the input
1. The Input
  • A. Lexical Functionalism -- constructions
  • B. Input-driven Learning -- cues, frequencies
    • Cue validity predicts cue strength

[p(function)|form] - comprehension

[p(form)|function] - production

2 the learner
2. The Learner
  • Distributed representations -> transfer
  • Emergent modularity
    • Neuronal commitment, automaticity
  • Capacity
    • Functional neural circuits
    • Perspective-taking
3 the context
3. The Context
  • Classroom context
    • Negative feedback is positive feedback
    • Instructional format interacts with learner characteristics
  • Role of computerized instruction
  • Setting up input contexts
    • Role of lexical richness
    • Learner must learn how to learn
1a lexical functionalism
1A. Lexical Functionalism


(cue, device)


(role, meaning)

competition between devices competition between interpretations
Competition between devicesCompetition between interpretations












cue validity cue strength cues interpretations comprehension meanings devices production
Cue validity -> cue strengthCues -> Interpretations ComprehensionMeanings -> Devices Production












some cues
Some cues

The tiger pushes the bear.

The bear the tiger pushes.

Pushes the tiger the bear.

The dogs the eraser push.

The dogs the eraser pushes.

The cat push the dogs.

Il gatto spingono i cani.

the dog was chased by the cat
The dog was chased by the cat.
  • Comprehension - Interpretations compete

Agent: The dog vs. the cat

Patient: The dog vs. the cat

  • Production - Devices compete

Dog placement: preverbal, postverbal, by-clause

Cat placement: preverbal, postverbal, by-clause

cue interactions
Cue interactions
  • Peaceful coexistence
  • Cue coalitions
  • Competition between interpretations during comprehension
  • Competition between devices during production
  • Change from category leakage and reinterpretation
cues vary across languages
Cues vary across languages

English: The pig loves the farmer

SV > VO > Agreement

German: Das Schwein liebt den Bauer.

Den Bauer liebt das Schwein

Case > Agreement > Animacy>Word Order

Spanish: El cerdo quiere al campesino.

Al campesino le quiere el cerdo.

"Case" > Agreement > Clitic > Animacy > Word Order

exotic patterns
Exotic Patterns


*Yas lééchaa’í yi-stin.

snow dog him-frooze.

Lééchaaa’ yas bi-stin

dog snow him-frooze

7-level hierachy of Animacy -- switch reference

basic results
Basic results
  • Reliable Cues Dominate
  • Cue Strengths Summate
  • Competition Cells show most variability
  • Continuity for pockets of grammaticality
      • Hungarian possessive for accusative
      • Croatian neutralized case in masculine
      • Japanese “wa” marking
  • Slowdown for grammatical sentences in Russian, Hungarian, Spanish without the “preferred cue”
  • Cue summation for pronominal processing
cue validity low levels
Cue validity (low levels)
  • Task frequency

F(task T) / F(all tasks)

  • Simple availability (relative availability of a cue for a given task)

F(times when cue A is present)

The cat chases the dog.

  • Contrast availability

F(cue A present ^ cue A contrasts)

The cat chases the dogs.

cue validity high levels
Cue validity (high levels)
  • Simple reliability

Reliable if always leads to right functional choice

F(cue A present ^ cue A contrasts ^ cue A correct) / F (cue A present^cue A contrasts)

  • Conflict reliability

In certain contexts, one cue will be more reliable

F(cue A conflicts with other cue ^ cue A wins) /

F(cue A conflicts with any cue)

  • SA -> CA -> SR -> CR transition
cue validity vs cue strength
Cue validity vs. cue strength
  • Cue validity is based on (tedious) counts of texts
  • Cue strength is first assessed through ANOVA analyses in Competition Model experiments
  • Cue strength is then modeled using MLE
mle models of cue strength
MLE models of cue strength
  • P (first noun) = ∏ S i (first) /∏ S j (others)
  • Two choice case

P (first noun) =

∏ S i (first) /∏ S i (first) + ∏ S j (second)

Models vary number of parameters and can be additive or multiplicative

pronouns an online example
Pronouns - an online example

MacDonald and MacWhinney (1989)

Just before dawn, Lisa was fishing with Ron in the boat,

and she caught a big trout right away.

and lots of big trout were biting.

  • Priming of referent at 500 msec for unambiguous gender.
  • Slowdown in processing of probes right at 0msec delay when there is a gender contrast only.
pronouns implicit causality
Pronouns - implicit causality

McDonald and MacWhinney (1994)

Probes presented at 4 Delay Times: D1 D2 D3 D4

* 100 * pro * 200 * end * Gary amazed Ellen time after time, because he was so talented.N1 V N2 filler , because PRO predicate.Probes: referent Gary non-referent Ellen distractor Frank verb amazed

Joel admires Susan because she is so fabulous.

results and competition
Results and Competition

1. Slowdown in processing of probes at pronoun when there is a contrast.

2. Facilitation from pronoun onwards when first noun advantage agrees with implicit causality.

3. Activation of N2 right at the pronoun for E-S verbs!

4. Standard Competition Model cue summations and competitions, all right when they should occur.

2 the learner27
2. The Learner
  • Distributed representations -> transfer
  • Emergent modularity
    • Neuronal commitment, automaticity
  • Capacity
    • Functional neural circuits
    • Perspective-taking

The black dog is going to the market with his owner.

parasitic learning kroll
Parasitic Learning -- Kroll

Translation route



  • Principle: Everything that “can transfer” will.
  • Connectionism predicts transfer
  • Word order can transfer
  • Phonology can transfer
  • Meaning can transfer
  • Morphological markings cannot
  • Early bilinguals as mixed
transfer beyond the word
Transfer beyond the word
  • I want to go to school.
  • Yo querer ir a escuela.
  • I would like to go to school.
  • (I) would-like to-go to the-school.
  • xx quer-rí-a ir a la-escuela.
  • Do you want to eat at my house?
  • You want not want at me eat, huh?
  • Translation with feedback may not be so bad.
problems with transfer
Problems with Transfer
  • Lexical concepts

“sibling” in Dutch = brother or sister

  • Broadness of application of translation equivalents

glass in English, vidrio or vaso in Spanish

car - “achterbak” or “kofferbak”

tree -“stam” or “boomstronk”

body - “romp”

snout - “slurf”

more problems with transfer
More Problems with Transfer
  • Grammatical expression of certain aspects of experience

The boy had fallen from the tree and his dog was hovering over him

  • Semantic boundaries differ across languages

prepositions (Ijaz, 1986)

Germans under-emphasize contact and over-emphasize movement for “on”

German “auf” means “up”

emergent modularity
Emergent modularity
  • Growing modules
    • Farah and McClelland
    • Jacobs, Jordan, Barto
  • Kim et al. fMRI study
capacity restrictions
Capacity restrictions
  • Detectability
  • Complexity (for production)
  • Assignability (memory load)
  • Online load minimization
    • One good cue is enough (Russian, Spanish)
    • Waiting for a reliable cue: Russian, Hungarian
    • No use waiting for cue that will not be reliable,

German die Frau küßt der ...

some generalizations
Some generalizations
  • Children learn the most valid cues first.
  • Aphasics preserve the most valid cues.

They also rigidify on the strongest devices

  • L2 learners attempt transfer, but then learn cues. They gradually reach L1 levels of cue strength.
  • Connectionism predicts transfer.
3 the context46
3. The Context

Providing negative evidence

open issues
Open issues
  • Neuronal Commitment
  • Social Identification
  • Resonance
  • Setting up Input Contexts
  • Models of Input, Learner, and Context must interlock
  • Competition Model is properly accounts for what we know about language learning, but
  • The model must be developed still further.