Jun 22 – 24, 2017
SISSA Main Campus
Europe/Rome timezone

Finding structure in form and time: Discriminative explorations in quantitative morphology

Jun 23, 2017, 9:25 AM
Lecture Hall Paolo Budinich (SISSA Main Campus)

Lecture Hall Paolo Budinich

SISSA Main Campus

via Bonomea 265, 34136, Trieste
Talk Symposium 1 -- Quantitative Morphology Symposium 1 -- Quantitative Morphology


Micheal Ramscar (University of Tubingen)


Traditional studies of language assume an atomistic model in which linguistic signals comprise discrete, minimal form elements associated with discrete, minimal elements of meaning. Since linguistic production has been seen to involve the composition of messages from an inventory of form elements, and linguistic comprehension the subsequent decomposition of these messages, researchers in linguistic morphology have focused on attempting to identify and classify these elements, along with the lossless processes of composition and decomposition they support, a program that has raised more questions than answers, especially when it comes to the nature of form-meaning associations. By contrast, behavioral and neuroscience research based on human and animal models has revealed that “associative learning” is a lossy, discriminative process. Learners acquire predictive understandings of their environments through competitive mechanisms that tune systems of internal cue representations to eliminate or reduce any uncertainty they promote. Critically, models of this process better fit empirical data when these cue representations do not map discretely onto the aspects of the environment learners come to discriminate. In this talk, I will briefly describe the basic principles of learning, along with the empirical basis for the belief that human communication is subject to the constraints these principles impose, and describe how, from this perspective, languages should be seen as probabilistic communication systems that exhibit continuous variation within a multidimensional space of form-meaning contrasts. This systematic picture of communication indicates that discrete descriptions of languages at an individual (psychological) or community (linguistic) level must necessarily be idealizations. Idealizations inevitably lose information, and I will then describe how the development of a discriminative, information theoretic approach to language leads in turn to the appreciation of the vast array of socially evolved structure that serves to underpin human communication.

Primary author

Micheal Ramscar (University of Tubingen)

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