Katie Wagner and David Barner
Human experience of color results from a complex interplay of perceptual and linguistic systems. At the lowest level of perception, the human visual system transforms the visible light portion of the electromagnetic spectrum into a rich, continuous three-dimensional experience of color. Despite our ability to perceptually discriminate millions of different color shades, most languages categorize color into a number of discrete color categories. While the meanings of color words are constrained by perception, perception does not fully define them. Once color words are acquired, they may in turn influence our memory and processing speed for color, although it is unlikely that language influences the lowest levels of color perception.
One approach to examining the relationship between perception and language in forming our experience of color is to study children as they acquire color language. Children produce color words in speech for many months before acquiring adult meanings for color words. Research in this area has focused on whether children’s difficulties stem from (a) an inability to identify color properties as a likely candidate for word meanings, or alternatively (b) inductive learning of language-specific color word boundaries. Lending plausibility to the first account, there is evidence that children more readily attend to object traits like shape, rather than color, as likely candidates for word meanings. However, recent evidence has found that children have meanings for some color words before they begin to produce them in speech, indicating that in fact, they may be able to successfully identify color as a candidate for word meaning early in the color word learning process. There is also evidence that prelinguistic infants, like adults, perceive color categorically. While these perceptual categories likely constrain the meanings that children consider, they cannot fully define color word meanings because languages vary in both the number and location of color word boundaries. Recent evidence suggests that the delay in color word acquisition primarily stems from an inductive process of refining these boundaries.
Connectionism is an important theoretical framework for the study of human cognition and behavior. Also known as Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) or Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), connectionism advocates that learning, representation, and processing of information in mind are parallel, distributed, and interactive in nature. It argues for the emergence of human cognition as the outcome of large networks of interactive processing units operating simultaneously. Inspired by findings from neural science and artificial intelligence, connectionism is a powerful computational tool, and it has had profound impact on many areas of research, including linguistics. Since the beginning of connectionism, many connectionist models have been developed to account for a wide range of important linguistic phenomena observed in monolingual research, such as speech perception, speech production, semantic representation, and early lexical development in children. Recently, the application of connectionism to bilingual research has also gathered momentum. Connectionist models are often precise in the specification of modeling parameters and flexible in the manipulation of relevant variables in the model to address relevant theoretical questions, therefore they can provide significant advantages in testing mechanisms underlying language processes.