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PhD Studentship - Computational Modelling of Child Language Learning

The University of Manchester

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Manchester
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £18,622 - please see advert
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 30th November 2023
Closes: 15th January 2024

Research theme: AI, psychology, linguistics

This PhD project is open to home students. The project is fully funded and home fees will be paid. The successful applicant will receive a tax free stipend of at least £18,622 per annum. The start date is 1st April 2024.

The aim of this PhD project is to use cutting-edge modelling techniques to simulate children's learning of English as a native language. Although computational modelling of language has recently made significant advances e.g., ChatGPT), such models do not simulate children's language learning because (a) they are not linked to the "real-world" (grounding), (b) they receive at least 10 times more language input than children, and (c) they do not simulate children's errors (e.g., saying "Want cookie" instead of "I want a cookie" or "He go over there" instead of "He's going over there"). The aim of this project is to build a model that maps from real-world meanings and goals (e.g., [GET] [COOKIE]) to childlike utterances (e.g., "Want cookie"), and so simulates language in a 2-3 year-old child. The model will be trained using corpora of parent-child speech (e.g., childes.talkbank.org/access) with utterances (e.g., "Do you want a cookie?") mapped to communicative function (e.g., QUESTION) and meaning (e.g., [LISTENER] [WANT] [COOKIE]). The result will be a model that not only simulates some of the major phenomena in child language acquisition research, but that also takes steps to address the grounding problem faced by current large language models.

This interdisciplinary project will be co-supervised by Professor Angelo Cangelosi (Computer Science), Professor Ben Ambridge (from Psychology) and Dr Colin Bannard (from Linguistics) for their interdisciplinary expertise on child language acquisition.

We strongly recommend that you contact the supervisors for this project before you apply. angelo.cangelosi@manchester.ac.uk and ben.ambridge@manchester.ac.uk

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