The Computational Nature of Language

LoLa Foundationalweek 1 each day

Thomas Graf (Stony Brook University)


Abstract: This foundational course is aimed at students with no prior background in linguistics and/or the theory of computation. We will explore the computational mechanisms that underpin phonology (the grammar of sounds and words) and syntax (the grammar of sentences). We will assess a variety of empirical phenomena such as word-final devoicing, vowel harmony, and island effects in terms of their subregular complexity, which is formalized via fragments of first-order logic. Subregular complexity will allow us to explain typological gaps (why can languages exhibit pattern A but not some minor variation B?), make strong empirical predictions, and determine how specific aspects of language might be learned.

The central message of the course is that it is easier than ever to study language from a computationally informed perspective, and that there is a great payoff to doing so. Subregular complexity is a fertile research program with an abundance of low hanging fruit. And this course will get you started on picking this proverbial fruit.