[Corpora-List] RE : Chomsky and computational linguistics

Rob Freeman lists at chaoticlanguage.com
Sun Sep 2 09:34:56 CEST 2007

Hello Professor Wilks,

Thanks for that interview. Nice to hear a really pithy theoretical

I have a great respect for historical perspectives. They force you to see
where other people have come from.

It is fascinating to hear the key conclusion of a man who was there at the
beginning of the field, now after 50 years, is that we must go back to
scratch and re-examine all our assumptions.

Among comments which stuck in my mind:

He abandoned his "depth hypothesis" because he was forced to conclude that
"there are different ways of drawing tree structures."

That our models of syntax, semantics, pragmatics etc. all failed because we
need to "get rid of our assumptions of grammar and syntax."

"Look at your assumptions and criticize them."

Personally I think we can clear up a lot of the mess, and get a very
predictive model, by abandoning just one assumption. I believe much of
machine learning to be quite sound for instance. We can use it (right from
the level of sound waves.) We can even keep grammar, in a sense.

The assumption I believe we need to abandon is the one that there is only
one grammar to be found.

Why do we insist on the assumption of global generalizations?

Instead we need to accept there are many grammatical perspectives possible,
and many of them contradict. (By this view the grammars we learn now,
"statistical language models" and the like, only appear random because they
are many contradictory grammars summed together.) Instead of attempting
global generalizations we should keep the corpus, and let context select the
generalizations we need at the time we need them.

I think Chomsky saw this too. That is the "value" I see in his rejection of
the phoneme. But he preferred to keep his assumption of one grammar, and
abandon the idea grammar could be learned instead.


On 9/2/07, Yorick Wilks <Yorick at dcs.shef.ac.uk> wrote:


> For anyone interested in the history of these issues and the original

> split, one might call it, between Chomsky and computational linguistics,

> a key witness is Vic Yngve, who was at MIT in the earliest days of CL

> [he is in one sense the founder of CL--as distinct from MT] and broke

> with Chomsky over the key

> issue of syntax and processing. You can see Yngve's reminiscences of

> the row at http://www.dcs.shef.ac.uk/~yorick/YngveInterview.html

> Yorick Wilks


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