The acquisition of vocabulary represents a key phenomenon in language acquisition, but is still poorly understood. Recently, the working memory model (Baddeley & Hitch, 1974) has been adapted to account for vocabulary acquisition (e.g. Gathercole & Baddeley, 1989). It is claimed that the phonological store, one of the components of working memory, offers a critical mechanism for learning new words. One of the theoretical weaknesses of this approach is however that no account is given for the mechanisms and representations used in long-term memory learning. This paper presents a computer model combining the EPAM/chunking approach (Feigenbaum & Simon, 1984) with the working memory approach. Phonemic learning is simulated as the elaboration of a discrimination net. Naturalistic input, consisting of utterances from five mothers interacting with their child, is used during the learning phase. Simulations show that the model can account reasonably well for the nonword repetition task described by Gathercole and Baddeley (1989), a task often presented as a powerful diagnostic of vocabulary learning.
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