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MODOMA: A Computer-Simulated Laboratory-Approach towards Language Acquisition

modomaPhD student: David Shakouri
Supervisors: Crit Cremers, Claartje Levelt and Niels O. Schiller

The goal of the MODOMA-project is to create a computer model of language acquisition. The resulting computer program sets out to construct linguistic knowledge (e.g. lexical and/or grammatical information) when presented with utterances such as sentences. MODOMA is an acronym for Moeder-Dochter-Machine (Dutch for: "Mother-Daughter-Machine"). A MODOMA is a language acquisition automaton. Acquisition is a result of an ongoing and online interaction between two conversation partners: a mother- and a daughter-entity. The mother-entity will be based on Delilah, the Leiden parser and generator of Dutch, whereas the daughter entity sets out to acquire the mother language grammar in the course of interaction. An online demo-version of Delilah can be found at:

This project will provide a language acquisition lab to researchers. The process and results are reproducible, measurable and verifiable. The architecture of the program will be completely parametrized: researchers are given control of the configuration for a particular experiment. On the other hand, a lab entails a simplification of reality as the daughter is acquiring language in a controlled interaction space instead of the real world. Therefore, this project will provide a research tool for future studies into language acquisition. One of the advantages of a computer model is that it enables experiments that would be impossible to do with human subjects. Currently, a test program based on the same principles and the same architecture has successfully been developed. This program sets out to acquire a small grammar of subject and object morphology when presented with texts. The MODOMA-project is funded by an NWO 'PhD in the Humanities'-grant.