Publications by Type: Journal Article

Finke, R., Pinker, S., & Farah, M. (1989). Reinterpreting Visual Patterns in Mental Imagery. Cognitive Science , 13 (1), 51-78.Abstract

In a recent paper, Chambers and Reisberg (1985) showed that people cannot reverse classical ambiguous figures in imagery (such as the Necker cube, duck/rabbit, or Schroeder staircase). In three experiments, we refute one kind of explanation for this difficulty: that visual images do not contain information about the geometry of a shape necessary for reinterpreting it or that people cannot apply shape classification procedures to the information in imagery. We show, that given suitable conditions, people can assign novel interpretations to ambiguous images which have been constructed out of parts or mentally transformed. For example, when asked to imagine the letter “D” on its side, affixed to the top of the letter “J”, subjects spontaneously report “seeing” an umbrella. We also show that these reinterpretations are not the result of guessing strategies, and that they speak directly to the issue of whether or not mental images of ambiguous figures can be reconstrued. Finally, we show that arguments from the philosophy literature on the relation between images and descriptions are not relevant to the issue of whether images can be reinterpreted, and we suggest possible explanations for why classical ambiguous figures do not spontaneously reverse in imagery.

Gropen, J., Pinker, S., Hollander, M., Goldberg, R., & Wilson, R. (1989). The Learnability and Acquistion of Dative Alternation in English. Language , 65 (2), 203-195. PDF
Pinker, S., Lebeaux, S., & Frost, L. A. (1987). Productivity and Constraints in the Acquisition of the Passive . Cognition , 26 (3), 195-267.Abstract
The acquisition of the passive in English poses a learnability problem. Most transitive verbs have passive forms (e.g., kick/was kicked by), tempting the child to form a productive rule of passivization deriving passive participles from active forms. However, some verbs cannot be passivized (e.g. cost/was cost by). Given that children do not receive negative evidence telling them which strings are ungrammatical, what prevents them from overgeneralizing a productive passive rule to the exceptional verbs (or if they do incorrectly passivize such verbs, how do they recover)? One possible solution is that children are conservative: they only generate passives for those verbs that they have heard in passive sentences in the input. We show that this proposal is incorrect: in children's spontaneous speech, they utter passive participles that they could not have heard in parental input, and in four experiments in which 3–8-year-olds were taught novel verbs in active sentences, they freely uttered passivized versions of them when describing new events. An alternative solution is that children at some point come to possess a semantic constraint distinguishing passivizable from nonpassivizable verbs. In two of the experiments, we show that children do not have an absolute constraint forbidding them to passivize nonactional verbs of perception or spatial relationships, although they passivize them somewhat more reluctantly than they do actional verbs. In two other experiments, we show that children's tendency to passivize depends on the mapping between thematic roles and grammatical functions specified by the verb: they selectively resist passivizing made-up verbs whose subjects are patients and whose objects are agents; and they are more likely to passivize spatial relation verbs with location subjects than with theme subjects. These trends are consistent with Jackendoff's “Thematic Hierarchy Condition” on the adult passive. However, we argue that the constraint on passive that adults obey, and that children approach, is somewhat different: passivizable verbs must have object arguments that are patients, either literally for action verbs, or in an extended abstract sense that individual languages can define for particular classes of nonactional verbs.
Pinker, S. (1979). Formal Models of Language Learning. Cognition , 7 217-283.Abstract
Research is reviewed that addresses itself to human language learning by developing precise, mechanistic models that are capable in principle of acquiring languages on the basis of exposure to linguistic data. Such research includes theorems on language learnability from mathematical linguistics, computer models of language acquisition from cognitive simulation and artificial intelligence, and models of transformational grammar acquisition from theoretical linguistics. It is argued that such research bears strongly on major issues in developmental psycholinguistics, in particular, nativism and empiricism, the role of semantics and pragmatics in language learning, cognitive development, and the importance of the simplified speech addressed to children.