Physics cranks = syntax cranks?

🕑 2 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 January 15, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 physics, syntax, Minimalism

Congratulations, you’re reading the shortest Outdex post yet! Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong, reacting to Sabine Hossenfelder of Lost in Math fame, has another post on the lack of progress in high-energy particle physics. If you’ve been following the debate about string theory and super symmetry in recent years, nothing in the post will shock you. What I find fascinating is that you could replace “particle physics” by “Minimalism” in this debate and the whole thing all of a sudden looks very familiar.

Overappreciated arguments: Marr's three levels

🕑 11 min • 👤 Jon Rawski • 📆 January 12, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 neuroscience, representations, Marr

<TG soapbox> The following is a guest post by Jon Rawski. I’m ruthlessly abusing my editorial powers to insert this reminder that the Outdex welcomes guest posts. Maybe you’d like to start a discussion on a topic that’s dear to your heart? Or maybe you have something to add to an ongoing discussion that can’t be fit in the comments section because it’s too long and involves multiple pictures and figures? Just send me your post in some editable format (not PDF) and I’ll try to post it asap. If you want to reduce the time from sending to posting, check the instructions on how to reduce the editorial load for me. Anyways, enough of my blabbering, let’s hear what Jon has to say… <TG soapbox/>

To spice up the Underappreciated Arguments series, I thought I’d describe a rhetorical chestnut beloved by many a linguist: Marr’s Three Levels. Anyone who has taken a linguistics class that dips a toe into the cognitive pool has heard of the Three Levels argument. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s been memed by grad students.

Semantics: Corrections and further thoughts

🕑 6 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 January 08, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 semantics, donkey sentences, parsing

This is a follow-up to my previous post on semantics. It has been pointed out to me that this post contains several inaccuracies and grave omissions. Some of them are in the summary of Lucas’ talk, and that would probably have been noticed earlier if I had provided a link to the slides or the paper. Thanks to Lucas for sending me those by email and for walking me through the account again. I’ll briefly explain some of the misleading points later on in this post.

But the much bigger issue is that I failed to point out that Lucas wasn’t just presenting his own work. He made it very, very clear that this was joint work with Dylan Blumford (UCLA) and Robert Henderson (UArizona). I’m really upset with myself about that one, in some sense giving partial credit is even worse than giving no credit at all, and the latter is already a dick move. My sincerest apologies to Dylan and Robert.

If I had run the post past Lucas before publishing it, a lot of this could have been avoided, so I’ll make that a priority for future posts that talk about work that I’m not well-acquainted with. Alright, so let’s talk a bit what I got wrong and how that affects the central message of the previous post.

Semantics should be like parsing

🕑 5 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 December 28, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 semantics, donkey sentences, parsing

I spent a few days before Christmas at the Amsterdam colloquium, which exposed me to a much heavier dose of semantics than I’m used to. I’ve always had a difficult relation with semantics. On the one hand I like that it has its fair share of KISS theories, and generalized quantifier theory is aesthetically very pleasing to me. On the other hand most of semantics is pretty dull, and I think that’s because semanticists put way too much stuff in their theories that has nothing to do with natural language semantics. I’ve previously had a hard time putting this into concrete terms, but Lucas Champollion’s invited talk on donkey sentences finally presented me with a specific example.

More circumambience in syntax

🕑 2 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 14, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 subregular, syntax, movement, complementizer agreement, relative clauses, English, French

This is a very short follow-up to my previous post on circumambient patterns in syntax. I just realized that there’s another, very robust example that makes all the cases look even more mundane: complementizer alternations in English relative clauses.

Circumambient patterns in syntax

🕑 12 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 11, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 subregular, syntax, phonology, tone plateauing, movement, complementizer agreement

Last week I gave an invited talk at UMass on the subregular program and the computational parallels it reveals between syntax and phonology. If you’re curious, the slides are on my website. The talk went over a lot better than I expected, and there were lots of great questions. UMass has a tradition of letting students ask questions first before the faculty get to chime in, and the students were relentless in a good way. I think there was only 5 minutes left for faculty questions at the end. It was a great experience, and probably the best question period I’ve ever been on the receiving end of.

Anyways, after the colloquium Brian Dillon asked a few questions about more complex movement cases, and those are very interesting because they’re yet another instance of computational parallelism between phonology and syntax: tone plateauing = movement-driven complementizer agreement.

Shellshock

🕑 8 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 06, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 syntax, Larsonian shells, constituency, CCG, Minimalist grammars

This semester I am teaching a seminar on computational syntax. It’s mostly on subregular syntax, but I started out with a discussion of CCG. CCG is noteworthy because it is a theory-rich approach that has managed to make major inroads into NLP. It would be cool if we could replicate this with MGs, but in order to do that you need a killer app. Subregular complexity might just be that because CCG doesn’t have a regular backbone, so it can’t have a subregular one either (more on that in a future post). CCG’s killer app was flexible constituency and a one-to-one mapping from syntax to semantics. You combine that with a corpus (CCGbank) and an efficient parsing algorithm (e.g. supertagging with A* parsing), and you have something that is both linguistically sophisticated and sufficiently fast and robust for practical applications. Anyways, this post collects some of my thoughts on flexible constituency and how it could be emulated in MGs. Spoiler: shells, lots and lots of shells.

We need a framework?

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 October 30, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 methodology, subregular

As you might know, Stony Brook hosted AMP, the American Meeting on Phonology, a week ago quite a while ago (yikes, almost November again). Jane Chandlee started off the conference with an invited talk on the subregular view of phonological mappings from underlying representations to surface forms. It was well received, but during the question period Bruce Hayes (no, not that Bruce Hayes) made a point that I found puzzling: “You need a framework!” Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask Bruce afterwards what exactly he meant by that. But every conceivable interpretation I’ve come up with I vehemently disagree with, and I think Bruce’s demand for a framework stems from incorrectly applying the linguistic modus operandi to computational work.

Some musings on corpora

🕑 9 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 September 05, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 syntax, corpus linguistics, Minimalist grammars, Combinatory categorial grammar

Pro tip: Don’t start a multi-part series of posts on locality right before the beginning of the semester and when you have a pile of papers to review. On the upside, this will give you guys some extra time to digest all the concepts in the three previous posts. In the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty post on corpus linguists and why it should be part of our syntax curriculum. I didn’t even proofread it, so beware.

KISSing semantics: Subregular complexity of quantifiers

🕑 9 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 July 26, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 subregular, strictly local, tier-based strictly local, monotonicity, quantifiers, semantics, typology

I promised, and you shall receive: a KISS account of a particular aspect of semantics. Remember, KISS means that the account covers a very narrowly circumscribed phenomenon, makes no attempt to integrate with other theories, and instead aims for being maximal simple and self-contained. And now for the actual problem:

It has been noted before that not every logically conceivable quantifier can be realized by a single “word”. Those are very deliberate scare quotes around word as that isn’t quite the right notion — if it can even be defined. But let’s ignore that for now and focus just on the basic facts. We have every for the universal quantifier $$\forall$$, some for the existential quantifier $$\exists$$, and no, which corresponds to $$\neg \exists$$. English is not an outlier, these three quantifiers are very common across languages. But there seems to be no language with a single word for not all, i.e. $$\neg \forall$$. Now why the heck is that? If language is fine with stuffing $$\neg \exists$$ into a single word, why not $$\neg \forall$$? Would you be shocked if I told you the answer is monotonicity? Actually, the full answer is monotonicity + subregularity, but one thing at a time.