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In search of resilient and fragile properties of language*



Young children are skilled language learners. They apply their skills to the language input they receive from their parents and, in this way, derive patterns that are statistically related to their input. But being an excellent statistical learner does not explain why children who are not exposed to usable linguistic input nevertheless communicate using systems containing the fundamental properties of language. Nor does it explain why learners sometimes alter the linguistic input to which they are exposed (input from either a natural or an artificial language). These observations suggest that children are prepared to learn language. Our task now, as it was in 1974, is to figure out what they are prepared with – to identify properties of language that are relatively easy to learn, the resilient properties, as well as properties of language that are more difficult to learn, the fragile properties. The new tools and paradigms for describing and explaining language learning that have been introduced into the field since 1974 offer great promise for accomplishing this task.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Susan Goldin-Meadow, University of Chicago, Department of Psychology, 5848 South University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. tel: 773-702-2585; e-mail:


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Supported by R01DC00491 from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders and by P01 HD 040605 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.



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In search of resilient and fragile properties of language*



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