Soap Vox Lecture | Wed 30 Oct | Mark Steedman

at 18:00 in Lecture Theatre 4, Appleton Tower

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The Ghost in the Machine: Linguistics and Computation

Abstract: Almost sixty years ago, Chomsky 1957 placed automata-theory at the
centre of linguistic theory, arguing that natural languages were
beyond the context-free recognition capabilities of pushdown automata,
and raising the question of exactly what level of automata theoretic
expressive complexity would be the minimum needed to capture natural
languages. The interest of the question lies in the fact that most
natural linguistic phenomena, despite the important exceptions, seem to be
context-free, prompting the conjecture that there might exist a
“mildly context sensitive” natural family of languages with a little more
expressive power, but with comparably attractive computational
properties, and consequent increased linguistic explanatory adequacy.

Transformational rules themselves turned out to be too expressive to
be of automata theoretic interest in this sense, and mainstream
linguistics has shown little interest in the question since. However,
in recent years there have been a number of proposals for less
expressive formalisms from computational linguists who build practical
devices for tasks like question-answering and machine translation.
I’ll review some of these developments in non-technical linguistic
terms, using examples from various languages, and draw some
conclusions for understanding problematic notions such as universal
grammar, the role of statistical models, and the course of language
acquisition in children as observed by psychologists.


Entry is £1 and FREE to active members. Membership can be purchased on our EUSA profile ( or otherwise at that night.

The talk will start at 6:00 p.m. and last about 1 hour. It will be followed by a Q&A session (about half an hour). We will then go to a pub for food and drink with the speaker.

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