ICBS Colloquium: Richard Futrell, UC Irvine
Why is human language the way it is? I claim that human languages can be modeled as systems for efficient communication: that is, codes that maximize information transfer subject to constraints on the cognitive resources used during language production and comprehension. I use this efficiency-based framework to formulate quantitative theories of word order, aiming to explain the cross-linguistic universals of word order documented by linguists as well as the statistical distribution of word orders in massively cross-linguistic corpus studies. I present three results. First, I show that word orders in 54 languages are shaped by dependency locality: a pressure for words in linked in syntactic dependencies to be close to each other, which minimizes working memory usage during language processing. Second, I introduce a new model of information-processing difficulty in online language processing, which simultaneously captures effects of probabilistic expectations and working memory constraints, recovering dependency locality as a special case and making new predictions, in particular about adjective order. Third, I present a computational framework in which grammars can be directly optimized for efficiency. When grammars are optimized to maximize information transfer while minimizing processing difficulty, they end up reproducing 8 typological universals of word order.
Link will be provided before event date
Friday, September 18, 2020
Institute of Cognitive and Brain Sciences