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Abstract: The Plaut, McClelland, Seidenberg and Patterson (1996) connectionist model of reading was evaluated, at two points early in its training, against reading data collected from British children on two occasions during their first year of literacy instruction. First, the network's non-word reading was poor relative to word reading when compared to the children. Second, the network made more non-lexical than lexical errors, the opposite pattern to the children. Three adaptations were made to the training of the network to bring it closer to the learning environment of a child: an incremental training regime was adopted; the network was trained on grapheme-phoneme correspondences; and a training corpus based on words found in children's early reading materials was used. The modifications caused a sharp improvement in non-word reading, relative to word reading, resulting in a near perfect match to the children's data on this measure. The modified network, however, continued to make predominantly non-lexical errors, although evidence from a small-scale implementation of the full triangle framework (Kello & Plaut, 2003), suggests that this limitation stems from the lack of a semantic pathway. Taken together, these results suggest that, when properly trained, connectionist models of word reading can offer insights into key aspects of reading development in children.
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