Productivity And Reuse In Language: A Theory Of Linguistic Computation And Storage

Hardcover | August 28, 2015

byTimothy J. O'donnell

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Language allows us to express and comprehend an unbounded number of thoughts. This fundamental and much-celebrated property is made possible by a division of labor between a large inventory of stored items (e.g., affixes, words, idioms) and a computational system that productively combines these stored units on the fly to create a potentially unlimited array of new expressions. A language learner must discover a language's productive, reusable units and determine which computational processes can give rise to new expressions. But how does the learner differentiate between the reusable, generalizable units (for example, the affix -ness, as in coolness, orderliness, cheapness) and apparent units that do not actually generalize in practice (for example, -th, as in warmth but not coolth)? In this book, Timothy O'Donnell proposes a formal computational model, Fragment Grammars, to answer these questions. This model treats productivity and reuse as the target of inference in a probabilistic framework, asking how an optimal agent can make use of the distribution of forms in the linguistic input to learn the distribution of productive word-formation processes and reusable units in a given language.

O'Donnell compares this model to a number of other theoretical and mathematical models, applying them to the English past tense and English derivational morphology, and showing that Fragment Grammars unifies a number of superficially distinct empirical phenomena in these domains and justifies certain seemingly ad hoc assumptions in earlier theories.

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Language allows us to express and comprehend an unbounded number of thoughts. This fundamental and much-celebrated property is made possible by a division of labor between a large inventory of stored items (e.g., affixes, words, idioms) and a computational system that productively combines these stored units on the fly to create a pote...

Timothy J. O'Donnell is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at MIT.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:350 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.75 inPublished:August 28, 2015Publisher:The MIT PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0262028840

ISBN - 13:9780262028844

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Fragment grammars constitute the most compelling formal proposal yet for the gradient between combinatoriality and idiosyncrasy in human language. Productive computation and reuse are two paths to observed form, and the learner must infer the optimal balance between the two. O'Donnell's models set a high bar for analyses of morphological productivity -- and beyond -- in years to come.