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Language, Cognition, and Computation Seminar Series

Edward Gibson
(Professor, Brain and Cognitive Sciences; Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT):
"Top-Down and Bottom-Up Influences in Human Language Comprehension"

Tuesday, December 7, 2004; 3:00 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

Deb Roy
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
AT&T Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences
Cognitive Machines group

In this talk, Gibson will summarize recent language-processing data from his lab that explore the influence of a variety of factors on human language comprehension, including syntactic structure, working memory, lexical frequency, and discourse context. Experimental evidence for a number of hypotheses will be summarized including:

  1. Local connections between syntactic/semantic dependents are easier to process than more distant connections. An interesting open question in this domain is how to quantify distance: words? time? interfering similar elements? the complexity of the intervening discourse structure?

  2. The human sentence processor is sensitive to syntactic expectations that are relatively certain to occur, such as a verb following a sequence like "The claim that the baseball player would hold out for more money ...." The greater the number of open expectations, the greater the local processing load.

  3. The human sentence processor is sensitive to the unigram lexical frequencies of words. For example, the word "that" is 78% complementizer, 11% determiner, and 11% pronoun in large corpora of written text. The high bias of complementizers affects peoples' processing of this word, even in environments where complementizers are virtually impossible, e.g., "I visited that hotel last week."
Data from multiple languages will be summarized, including data from English, Japanese and Chinese.

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