Colloquium: UC Irvine Language Science

Apr 4, 2023 12:00 AM
Irvine (virtual)
Irvine, CA

“[T]here is absolutely no mapping to date that we understand in even the most vague sense.” So writes David Poeppel in 2012 about the connection between Linguistics and neurobiology. I discuss our attempts to meet this challenge in the domain of syntax by comparing neural signals to the state spaces traversed by different classes of incremental parsers. This approach, which is based on linguistically interpretable models, contrasts sharply with others that use “black box” large language models based on deep neural networks. We see evidence from such comparisons favoring (a) grammatical accounts with greater fidelity to the expressivity of natural language, such as combinatory categorial grammar, and (b) eager parsing strategies consistent with the key role for predictive processing in language understanding. Despite some success, we also see limitations in isolating primitives in our parsers that map in a one-to-one fashion to neural circuits. Ongoing work probes how to break this impasse by interrogating the role of memory in incremental parsing with a special focus on cue-based retrieval accounts.

Jonathan R. Brennan
Associate Professor of Linguistics & Psychology

Neurolinguistics, semantics, and syntax.