MGs do not struggle (as much as you think) with multiple wh-movement

🕑 15 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 July 23, 2021 in Discussions • 🏷 Minimalist grammars, movement, multiple wh-movement, transductions, first-order logic

In February I had a nice chat with Bob Frank and Tim Hunter regarding their SCiL paper on comparing tree-construction methods across mildly context-sensitive formalisms. Among other things, this paper reiterates the received view that MGs cannot handle unbounded multiple wh-movement. That is certainly true for standard MGs as defined in Stabler (1997), but my argument was that this is due to what may now be considered an idiosyncrasy of the definition. We can relax that definition to allow for multiple wh-movement while preserving essential formal properties of MGs. However, friendly chats aren’t a good format for explaining this in detail, so I promised them an Outdex post with some math. Well, 5 months later, I finally make good on my promise.

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Mellow musings on peer review

🕑 8 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 June 07, 2021 in Discussions • 🏷 publishing, journals, peer review

My last post (yes, ages ago) reflected on two issues that come up quite a bit on Martin Haspelmath’s blog, and in both cases I did not really agree with his conclusions. But there is a third issue he mentions a lot: peer review, be it for conferences, journals, or grants. Haspelmath has an impressive number of posts on the topic. The tldr is that reviews are a waste of time for reviewers, do not improve the final paper or proposal (e.g. because authors have to tack on extraneous stuff to please reviewers), and incentivize flashy presentation over substance. Moreover, reviewers are frequently forced into the role of gatekeepers who have to defend the fair maidens of Publisher Island and Conference Valley from the ravaging hordes of sub-par submissions. I do not want to directly argue for or against these points, I’m sure the prestigious outdex readership can make up its own mind. But I will say that my own experience has been a lot more positive, largely because of the field I’m in. So the following are some reflections on what I think mathematical linguistics as a field gets right with peer review (and there’s also a tiny bit about how it can sometimes go wrong).

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Discovering Martin Haspelmath's blog

🕑 5 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 April 28, 2021 in Discussions • 🏷 methodology, universals

Unbecoming as it may be for a blogging linguist, I am not particularly familiar with the overall blogosphere in linguistics. As a devoted Twitter & Facebook hermit, I am perpetually out of the loop, and I like it that way. So it is only recently that I have become aware of Martin Haspelmath’s long-running blog, thanks to a post by David Adger. There’s tons of posts, but based on the limited sample I’ve read so far, it seems that most revolve around one of three issues: terminology, innateness, and peer-review. I think the latter is actually the most interesting, but for the sake of completeness self-indulgence, I’ll add my $0.02 regarding the first two, leaving peer-review for a separate post.

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Handbook chapter on Minimalism and computational linguistics

🕑 4 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 March 30, 2021 in Discussions • 🏷 Minimalist grammars, formal language theory

Aah, the soothing sound of crickets. In case you’ve been wondering about the recent radio silence at this prestigious online soapbox, my todo list finally caught up with me and I had to spend the last few weeks writing up/revising some papers that were way overdue. It was a matter of life and death — the editors were already contemplating Satanic blood sacrifices, and while I enjoy a good Black Mass as much as the next guy, I’d rather not be its subject matter. In this post I’d like to talk a bit about one of those papers, a chapter on Minimalist grammars in an upcoming handbook on Minimalism. Though I have to admit that it’s mostly a ruse to get some of you to give it a read and leave some feedback in the comments section.

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The 2021 Outdex bingo

🕑 3 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 January 05, 2021 in Discussions • 🏷 fun allowed, LaTeX, Python

2020 hasn’t been particularly kind to most folks, although it did work out really well for my department here at Stony Brook (more on that in some other post, perhaps). 2021 still has that “new car” smell, but it might need some help to stay fresh for the full 52 weeks. This is why I present you with my revolutionary invention: Outdex bingo.

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Three types of generalizations

🕑 12 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 December 14, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 methodology, reduplication

My post on defossilization clearly wasn’t esoteric enough, so I’m upping the ante by turning to one of the most esoteric and ephemeral issues in linguistic theory. Yes, we’re gonna talk about generalizations and what their role ought to be in how we do linguistics. Since it’s a long post even for outdex standards, I’ll give you a tldr: I think there’s at least three types of generalization, and we shouldn’t lump them together. In particular, not every generalization has a payoff in the grammar.

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Representations as fossilized computation

🕑 13 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 30, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 syntax, morphology, representations, features, category features, selection, subregular, logical transductions

Okay, show of hands, who still remembers my post on logical transductions from over a month ago? Everyone? Wonderful, then let’s dive into an issue that I’ve been thinking about for a while now. In the post on logical transductions, we saw that the process of rewriting one structure as another can itself be encoded as a structure. Something that we intuitively think of in dynamic terms as a process has been converted into a static representation, like a piece of fossilized computation. Once we look at representations as fossilized computations, the question becomes: what kind of computational fossils are linguistic representations?

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Synchronous movement: What could go wrong?

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 October 12, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 syntax, movement, Minimalist grammars, subregular

I know I promised you guys a follow-up post on logical transductions and the status of representations, but I just have to get this out first because it’s been gnawing at me for a few weeks now. There’s been some limitations of the subregular view of syntax in terms of movement tiers, and I think I’ve found a solution, one that somehow ends up looking a bit like the system in Beyond Explanatory Adequacy. The thing is, my solution is so simple that I fear I’m missing something very basic, some clear-cut empirical phenomenon that completely undermines my purported solution. So, syntacticians, this is your opportunity to sink my current love child in the comments section…

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A tribute to Joost Engelfriet

🕑 6 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 September 02, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 formal language theory, tree transductions

Ed Stabler sent me a link to the most recent paper by Joost Engelfriet, which concludes with the following message:

That’s all folks! This was my last paper. Thank you, dear reader, and farewell.

That’s bitter-sweet. On the one hand, I admire that he can draw a line in the sand like this. On the other hand, I wish he’d erase that line and keep going for a few more years. Even though Engelfriet isn’t a mathematical linguist — and might not even be aware of the more linguistic side of that field, the one that we serve here at the Outdex Café — he has had a profound influence on the field, including a lot of my own work.

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When parsing isn't about parsing

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 June 18, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 syntax, morphology, parsing, formal language theory, movement

As a student I didn’t care much for work on syntactic parsing since I figured all the exciting big-picture stuff is in the specification of possible syntactic structures, not how we infer these structures from strings. It’s a pretty conventional attitude, widely shared by syntacticians and a natural corollary of the competence-performance split — or so it seems. But as so often, what seems plausible and obvious at first glance quickly falls apart when you probe deeper. Even if you don’t care one bit about syntactic processing, parsing questions still have merit because they quickly turn into questions about syntactic architecture. This is best illustrated with a concrete example, in that abstract sense of “concrete” that everyone’s so fond of here at the outdex headquarters.

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