Segments & Rules

Segments & Rules: a comparative study into the computational mechanisms underlying language acquisition

Project leaders

Project description

In this project we study the properties of statistical- and rule-learning mechanisms in relation to the acquisition and evolution of language. We ask to what extent these mechanisms are unique to humans - or to human language - by comparing the acquisition of vocal structure in two species: humans (infants) and songbirds (zebra finches). This will be done by ways of a series of carefully constructed, comparable artificial language learning experiments. In addition, we will develop computational models of artificial language learning that, on the one hand, predict optimal learning behavior and, on the other hand, test how different factors - perceptual biases, computational constraints, memory limitations, etc. - influence learning. The project will not only provide a better insight into the processes underlying language acquisition, but also into the linkage between linguistic and more general cognitive mechanisms and their evolution.


Vacancy 3: Fully-funded PhD position on Modelling Artificial Language Learning


You will be based at the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation at the University of Amsterdam, and work under supervision of dr. Willem Zuidema.


You will be one of three PhD students in a multidisciplinary team consisting of biologists, linguists and computer modellers. In the project, we investigate which aspects of the cognitive abilities of humans underlying language are unique among animals. We adopt the artificial language learning paradigm and study both experimentally and theoretically similarities and differences in the pattern recognition and learning abilities of human infants, human adults and non-human animals, in particular songbirds (zebra finches). Together, the three PhD-projects will test how factors such as perceptual biases, computational constraints, memory limitations, etc. influence successful learning.

In this specific PhD-project you will develop computational and mathematical models of artificial language learning, and try to account for the experimental data obtained by psychologists, linguists and biologists. Much of the data you will work with will come from the two other PhD-projects -- involving experiments with zebrafinches and human infants -- that run parallel to yours. From the start you will also be involved in helping to design these experiments, and in analysing the data. Further tasks include writing articles on your findings and helping to organise an international conference on the topic. The project should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis) to be defended at the University of Amsterdam.


The candidate should have a Master's degree in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science, mathematical psychology or equivalent, and strong computational skills combined with a real interest in experimental data. You should preferably have experience in computational modelling of cognitive processes and/or Bayesian data modelling. You must be proficient in spoken and written English, have good communication skills and a strong interest in a scientific career.

Check the full vacancy text here. Open for applications until June 17th.

Jelle Zuidema

Last modified: Wednesday, 06-Jun-2012 15:37:19 CEST