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    • Join Date: May 2007
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    Language theory and language technology;copetence and performance

    To be able to turn linguistics into a hard science, Chomsky [1957] assigned a mathematical correlate to the intuitive idea of a "language". He proposed to identify a language with a set of sentences: with the set of grammatically correct utterance forms that are possible in the language. The goal of descriptive linguistics is then to characterise, for individual languages, the set of grammatical sentences explicitly, by means of a formal grammar. And the goal of explanatory linguistic theories should then be, to determine the universal properties which the grammars of all languages share, and to give a psychological account of these universals.
    In this view, linguistic theory is not immediately concerned with describing the actual language use in a language community. Although we may assume that there is a relation between the language users' grammaticality intuitions and their actual language behaviour, we must make a sharp distinction between these; on the one hand the language system may offer possibilities which are rarely or never used; on the other hand the actual language use involves mistakes and sloppinesses which a linguistic theory should not necessarily account for. In Chomsky's terminology: linguistics is concerned with the linguistic competence rather than the actual performance of the language user. Or, in the words of Saussure, who had emphasized this distinction before: with langue rather than parole.
    Chomsky's work has constituted the methodological paradigm for almost all linguistic theory of the last few decades. This comprises not only the research tradition that is explicitly aiming at working out Chomsky's syntactic insights. The perspective summarized above has also determined the goals and methods of the most important alternative approaches to syntax, and of the semantic research traditions which have grown out of Richard Montague's work. Now we may ask: how does language technology relate to this language-theoretical paradigm?

  1. bianca's Avatar
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    Re: Language theory and language technology;copetence and performance

    I'm not sure I'm answering your question right, but here's what I think:

    When I studied logical fallacies in language I came across an interesting fact: 1+1 does not necessarily have to be 2. Like in:

    Ann wants to talk to the principal.
    The principal is Ann's father.
    That means that Ann wants to talk to her father. Does this make sense, logically?

    Not always. Ann's father could be sick and someone else took over his office as principal. There is a gap between intention and outcome, which in turn affects the truth value (the sense) of a context. Just like in the case of ambiguity - a grammatically correct statement doesn't always make sense to the reader.

    Among other things, logician Montague grappled with meaning / sense as a means of dealing with ambiguity / so as to disambiguate a context. I find this cutting-edge.

    (Ambiguity: They saw her duck. ("duck" can be either NP or a bare infinitival complement).

    However, when asked how the LT system tackles ambiguity of natural language, some experts say that the computer is programmed to ask questions whenever ambiguity is present. Still not conclusive... So, I guess one of the known challenges in language technology still remains the ambiguity of semantics.

    Last edited by bianca; 14-May-2007 at 13:06.

  2. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
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    Re: Language theory and language technology;copetence and performance

    Additionally, descriptive linguists quantify the Competence side of a language, whereas Language Technology (LT), because it must account for the mistakes and sloppiness of actual language use, involves quantifying the Performance side of language.

    The real question is, can Performance be quantified? Is there regularity within its apparent randomness? If so, then how does language technology (LT) even begin to start to quantify language, when one of the fundamental assumptions of linguistic theory today is that Performance can't be quanitifed?

    Does that help?


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