Talk and masterclass by Alex Clark

Posted on October 24, 2013 by

Remember, remember the 5th of November! Alexander Clark (King’s College London) will be here to give a talk on distributional learning of syntax. Here’s the abstract:

Recently some new techniques of grammatical inference have been developed, inspired by some old ideas of distributional learning from structuralist linguistics. These models have now reached a level where the classes of grammars that they can learn are large enough to describe natural languages. This raises the interesting question as to whether they are plausible models of language acquisition, and if so what the consequences are for the standard models of mainstream generative grammar. In this talk, I will survey the current state of the art of this theory, and relate it to fundamental disputes about the nature of the language faculty.

This material has potentially explosive consequences for commonly-held views about innateness! Tue 5th, 4.15pm, Ellen Wilkinson A2.16.

On the following day, Wednesday 6th Nov, Alex will also be giving the first of this year’s masterclasses, on Theoretical Linguistics and Formal Learning Theory. The masterclass will be in two sessions, from 10-12 and 2-4, in University Place 4.209. Here’s a summary of the content that will be covered:

In this class we will discuss the basics of formal learning theory, as applied to the theory of language acquisition.

We will start by looking at the basic ways that learning has been formalised discussing the inputs and outputs of the learning process and introducing the various notions of convergence, and of learnable classes of grammars.

We will then look at various negative results in the theory, including Gold (1967)’s famous negative results, and other less well known results about the computational problems involved in learning theory, before moving onto positive results of various types, focusing on the ideas of probabilistic learning and the recent theory of distributional learning, starting with Clark & Eyraud (2007)’s learning approach for context-free grammars and moving onto extensions of this work to richer formalisms; critically examining the strengths and weaknesses of this rapidly developing theory, and how learning theory has in the past been used to motivate Linguistic Nativism.

And here’s a bio:

Alexander Clark is a Lecturer in Logic and Linguistics in the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London; before that he taught for several years in the Computer Science department of Royal Holloway, University of London. His first degree was in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and his Ph.D. is from the University of Sussex. He did postdoctoral research at the University of Geneva. He is currently President of SIGNLL and chair of the steering committee of the International Colloquium on Grammatical Inference. His research is on unsupervised learning in computational linguistics, grammatical inference, and theoretical and mathematical linguistics.

Manchet is proper excited about this!