The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 10/23 - Edward Flemming (MIT)

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Stochastic Harmonic Grammars
Date/Time: Monday, 23 October, 5:00-6:30pm 
Location: 32-D831

MaxEnt grammars have become the tool of choice for analyzing phonological phenomena involving variation or gradient acceptability. MaxEnt grammars are a probabilistic form of Harmonic Grammar in which harmony scores (sums of weighted constraint violations) of candidates are mapped onto probabilities (Goldwater & Johnson 2003). But MaxEnt grammar is not the only proposal for deriving probabilities from Harmonic Grammars – one alternative is Noisy Harmonic Grammar (Boersma & Pater 2016), in which variation is derived by adding random ‘noise’ to constraint weights, and further variants of this scheme are discussed by Hayes (2017). I will report on an investigation into the properties of these stochastic grammar formalisms, with the ultimate goal of identifying predictions that could be used to evaluate them empirically.

In spite of the superficial differences between MaxEnt and Noisy Harmonic Grammar, they can both be formulated as NHGs where the noise is added to the harmony scores of each candidate. This common format facilitates analysis and comparison of the two formalisms. The differences identified are difficult to assess empirically, but in the absence of evidence in favor of NHG, MaxEnt is to be preferred for its simplicity and tractability.