- From exemplar to grammar: A probabilistic analogy-based model of language learning
- Cognitive Science
- Volume | Issue number
- 33 | 5
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Interfacultary Research Institutes
- Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC)
While rules and exemplars are usually viewed as opposites, this paper argues that they form end points of the same distribution. By representing both rules and exemplars as (partial) trees, we can take into account the fluid middle ground between the two extremes. This insight is the starting point for a new theory of language learning that is based on the following idea: If a language learner does not know which phrase-structure trees should be assigned to initial sentences, s/he allows (implicitly) for all possible trees and lets linguistic experience decide which is the "best" tree for each sentence. The best tree is obtained by maximizing "structural analogy" between a sentence and previous sentences, which is formalized by the most probable shortest combination of subtrees from all trees of previous sentences. Corpus-based experiments with this model on the Penn Treebank and the Childes database indicate that it can learn both exemplar-based and rule-based aspects of language, ranging from phrasal verbs to auxiliary fronting. By having learned the syntactic structures of sentences, we have also learned the grammar implicit in these structures, which can in turn be used to produce new sentences. We show that our model mimicks children's language development from item-based constructions to abstract constructions, and that the model can simulate some of the errors made by children in producing complex questions.
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