Consistency and Creativity in First Language Acquisition

Michael Israel


In this paper I argue that a general PRINCIPLE OF CONSISTENCY both motivates
and constrains the process of analogical learning in a usage-based grammar. The basic idea is that children learning a language, and speakers in general, represent linguistic units in ways that maximize their motivation and emphasize their commonalities. Two units are consistent with each other to the degree that they match in their formal and semantic specifications. LOCAL CONSISTENCY applies to linguistic units activated online in usage events, and requires these to be as consistent as possible with entrenched utterance types. GLOBAL CONSISTENCY applies to the repertoire of constructions as a whole, and requires that units be represented in ways which maximize their consistency with each other. Local consistency favors a massive inventory of low-scope constructions to represent the rich details of experienced usage events: it thus fosters arbitrariness in the grammar, but also makes on-line processing easier by offering conventional units for every occasion. Global consistency favors the development of abstract representations and recurrent inheritance links across constructions: it thus increases motivation in the grammar, but also makes processing harder as the schematic units it favors are farther removed from the details of actual usage.

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