The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

CANCELLED DUE TO ILLNESS / LingLunch 3/1: Richard Futrell (MIT-BCS)

Speaker: Richard Futrell (MIT-BCS) 
Title: Memory and Locality in Natural Language
Date and time: Thursday, March 1, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

I explore the hypothesis that the universal properties of human languages can be explained in terms of efficient communication given fixed human information processing constraints. First, I show corpus evidence from 54 languages that word order in grammar and usage is shaped by working memory constraints in the form of dependency locality: a pressure for syntactically linked words to be close to one another in linear order. Next, I develop a new theory of human language processing cost, based on rational inference in a noisy channel, that unifies surprisal and memory effects and goes beyond dependency locality to a new principle of information locality: that words that predict each other should be close. I show corpus evidence for information locality. Finally, I show that the new processing model resolves a long-standing paradox in the psycholinguistic literature, structural forgetting, where the effects of memory on language processing appear to be language-dependent.