Computers and Human Language

Computers and Human Language

Computers and Human Language

Computers and Human Language

Synopsis

Offering an inquiry into the nature of language from the perspective of computing, Computers and Human Language synthesizes recent research in linguistics, computer science, and experimental psychology as it explores the major computational approaches to language, especially the modeling of processes by which language is comprehended. Among the topics considered are the computationally symbolic basis of language, lexicons as repositories of information, automated text processing, phonology, phototactics, speech synthesis and the persisting challenge of continuous speech, transformational grammars and their successors, linguistic and conceptual approaches to sentence meaning, and discourse coherence and plan-based bridging inferences. The book also explores such up-to-the-minute subjects as neurally-inspired computing, parsing and psychological plausibility, the controversial representation hypothesis, and the ramifications of discourse "focus." With its clear, engaging style and gradual, systematic exposition, Computers and Human Language makes the fast-moving world of computational linguistics accessible to the non-specialist reader.

Excerpt

Symbols are familiar, convenient ways of representing information; we encounter them every day. a symbol is a cipher, an entity with no inherent meaning, that has been assigned a meaning by a user of symbols or a community of users. Symbols often participate in systems of symbols. the red, yellow, and green of traffic lights are symbols, each with a unique meaning; they convey "stop," "caution" and "go" quickly and without ambiguity. in combination, they constitute a system of symbols, albeit a very simple system, but the three meaningful alternatives guide the behavior of hundreds of millions of people. the decimal numeral system is another system of symbols, a system of great range and versatility. Employing the ten numerals 0 through 9, together with an agreed-upon notation in which a numeral's value depends on the column in which it occurs, the decimal system affords an infinite number of possible symbols and can represent sequence, quantity, and countless other mathematical abstractions. Musical notation with its clefs, staffs, notes, dots, bars, measures, signatures, and other symbols is another rich symbolic system, collectively capable of representing the complexity of music and its infinite creativity.

Language is yet another symbolic system, though we may not think about it that way. Much as the red of a traffic light is a color that symbolizes a command, the sequences of sounds or graphic shapes that constitute words and sentences of a language function as symbols to signify the meanings or intentions of a speaker. Much as numerals take on new meanings when they enter into combinations (10 signifies a different quantity than the sum of 1 and 0), so words combine to form a potentially infinite number of different phrases and sentences . . .

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