Learnability and Language Acquisition

A course at LOT 2012, Tilburg, January 2012


Alexander Clark, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Course Overview

As Chomsky observed, the fundamental problem of linguistics is to satisfy two conflicting goals: to find formalisms that are sufficiently expressive to represent the sorts of structures and dependencies that we observe in natural language, and secondly to account for their acquisition. This course analyses this problem using the tools of modern computational learning theory, surveying the classical literature on learnability, and how this motivated a rich notion of UG in the Principles and Parameters program, and moving on to the current movement in the Minimalist Program to reduce the work done by the language faculty, perhaps to a single primitive operation, MERGE. Along the way we will look at programs and algorithms for learning language, in both the theoretical sense, and practical implemented algorithms for doing unsupervised learning from real corpora, including some of child directed speech. (Much of this is joint work with Shalom Lappin).

Slides and Materials

Course material; the lecture slides will be put up after each lecture.

  1. Monday: Lecture 1 slides here.
  2. Tuesday: Handout mcfgsforlinguists.pdf. Lecture 2 slides here.
  3. Wednesday: Lecture 3 slides here. Some relevant papers: Learning substitutable languages.
  4. Thursday: Lecture 4 slides here.
  5. Friday: Lecture 5 slides here

Alexander Clark alexc@cs.rhul.ac.uk