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Re: [xmca] Deb Roy: The birth of a word
On Mar 16, 2011, at 9:16 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> I am not entirely sure I agree with Martin's and Jim's criticisms. First of all, when I read Halliday's work on early language acquisition, it seems MORE objective than Deb Roy's "space time worms". Halliday is looking at grammar and especially at function. But I am really not sure at all what Deb Roy is looking at. I can't even understand, when I am looking at the worms, what is space and what is time, but above all I can't understand how it helps him organize his transcriptions. (I can see how it makes for a cool presentation, though!)
Like Jim, I'd like to clarify my previous message. I didn't mean to sound as though I were rejecting any use of technology for this kind of research. Obviously videorecording and other techniques of objectification are crucial for the study of a phenomenon as fleeting as speech. But any investigation of children's acquisition of language has to make use of the intuitions of speakers of that language. One needs to be able to recognize the legal combinations of phonemes, and syllables, and the illegal combinations, in order to plot the movement from one to the other. One needs to recognize a word, and approximations to it, and what it signifies in a specific occasion of use. The utility of computers, then, to help conduct an analysis of a child's speech depends on ones ability to program them with the equivalent of these intuitions. The degree of success with which we have been able to program computers to recognize human speech is still very limited, and our ability to program them to understand context has been even more limited. Yet once one collects massive amounts of data, as Roy has done, the use of computers becomes virtually unavoidable. My point about Halliday's research was that he drew not only on his speaker/hearer's intuitions, he also drew on what was available to him as a participant interacting intimately with the child speaker. Roy of course had the same type of interactions, but rather than build on these he chose instead the strategy of massive data collection. There is, presumably as a consequence of, apparently no attention to semantics in Roy's analysis - not that one would expect to find the child showing an understanding of concepts, but knowing something of the adults' interpretations of his words in context would surely be tremendously helpful in understanding the acquisition process.
I assume that the fact that in his presentation Roy could provide only sound bites of the child's approximations to "water" indicates that his system for automated analysis of the videos was not able to parse those events. Was the computer able to judge these utterances to be tokens of a single type? Or did humans still need to go through the recordings to make such judgments? If the latter, then it seems to me that the accumulation of massive amounts of data made the researchers' task more difficult, not easier, and it is not clear to me what the benefit is of Roy's approach.
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