LINGUIST List 13.3392

Fri Dec 20 2002

Review: Psycholing/Ling Theories:Merlo&Stevenson (2002)

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  1. C A Ankerstein, Merlo & Stevenson (2002), The Lexical Basis of Sentence Processing

Message 1: Merlo & Stevenson (2002), The Lexical Basis of Sentence Processing

Date: Fri, 20 Dec 2002 17:41:17 +0000
From: C A Ankerstein <>
Subject: Merlo & Stevenson (2002), The Lexical Basis of Sentence Processing

Merlo, P. and Stevenson, S., ed. (2002). The Lexical Basis of Sentence
Processing: Formal, Computational and Experimental Issues. John
Benjamins, hardback ISBN 1588111563 (US) 9027249873 (EUR), viii +
363pp, USD 100.00 / EUR 110.00, Natural Language Processing Volume 4.

Book Announcement on Linguist: 

Carrie Ankerstein, Department of Human Communication Sciences,
University of Sheffield, England.


This book contains a selection of the papers given by participants of
the 11th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, March
1998 entitled ''The Lexical Basis of Sentence Processing: Formal and
Computational Issues''.

The primary motivation of the conference was to gain a deeper
understanding of the lexicon and its impact on processing by
elaborating on the structure and probabilistic content of lexical
representations, which together have an influence on sentence
processing. The multi-disciplinary nature of the conference is
reflected in the resulting collection of papers, including
perspectives from psycholinguistics, computational and theoretical


The body of the book is divided into 15 chapters, which are organized
into three parts. Part I outlines the fundamental issues surrounding
the lexicon and sentence processing, the relationship between syntax
and the lexicon are discussed in Part II and in Part III the details
of lexical entries are explored.

The introductory chapter by editors Suzanne Stevenson and Paola Merlo
entitled ''Words, numbers and all that: the lexicon in sentence
understanding'' is intended to assimilate the various viewpoints of
the disciplines contributing to the volume. They give an introduction
to the research that has been done in various fields on sentence
processing. They also outline and draw similarities between the
following chapters and discuss a lot of the issues that pervade this
area of research.

Part I: Fundamental Issues

Chapter 2: ''The lexicon in Optimality Theory'' by Joan Bresnan. In
Optimality Theory (OT) the lexicon is the result of syntactic
variation. She discusses the dependency of the content of the lexicon
on syntax with the example of dialect variation in the inversion of
the copula in negation, e.g. aren't I vs. *I aren't (Standard English)
and Amn't I vs. *I amn't (Scots), arguing that this arises not out of
a simple lexical preference, but derives from the grammatical
properties of the dialect.

Chapter 3: ''Optimality-theoretic Lexical Functional Grammar'' by Mark
Johnson. This chapter discusses the impact of OT on the ''classical''
Lexical Functional Grammar and focuses on the relevance of Bresnan's
proposal for sentence processing. The discussion of linguistic
universals and markedness in terms of optimalisation fits well with
the probabilistic language models of computational linguistics.

Chapter 4: ''The lexicon and the laundromat'' by Jerry Fodor. Fodor
discusses the content of the lexicon: ''nothing belongs to a lexical
entry for a lexical item except what that item contributes to the
grammatical representation of its hosts''. His discussion of the
lexicon is guided by two principles: compositionality and reverse
compositionality. Fodor discusses the impact of compositionality on
frequency: frequency information, for example, cannot be a property of
a lexical entry because that would violate reverse compositionality
which states: the grammar of the constituents is exhausted by what
they contribute to the context.

Chapter 5: ''Semantics in the spin cycle: competence and performance
criteria for the creation of lexical entries'' by Amy
Weinberg. Weinberg's chapter reflects on Fodor's reverse
compositionality criterion and the apparent conflict with
probabilistic models of language processing, which by nature are based
on frequency.

Chapter 6: ''Connectionist and symbolist sentence processing'' by Mark
Steedman. Connectionist models have been built to successfully
simulate syntactic parsing. Steedman argues that the relevance of
connectionist models in language processing lies in their predictive
approach to processing, thus putting emphasis again on frequency of
associations in the lexicon.

Part II: Division of labour between syntax and the lexicon

Chapter 7: ''A computational model of the grammatical aspects of word
recognition as supertagging'' by Albert E. Kim, Bangalore Srinivas and
John C. Trueswell. In their chapter, Kim et al. discuss a model for
disambiguation based on a constraint-based theory of sentence
processing and argue that much of the syntactic ambiguity of language
can be understood as lexical ambiguity, which is resolved during word

Chapter 8: ''Incrementality and the lexicon'' by Vincenzo Lombardo and
Patrick Sturt. Lombardo and Sturt's chapter discusses some of the
consequences of strong incremental parsing. If parsing is incremental,
the parser needs to be able to integrate a new word into the structure
via a connection path, thus syntactic structure is created through the
links between the individual lexical items. Since the nodes of these
links may not be fully analyzed, the projections may be headless
projections. Lombardo and Sturt discuss two potential problems of
headless projections in connection paths: what knowledge is needed
beyond traditional lexical projection and what is the extent of
headless projections in the connection paths.

Chapter 9: ''Modular architectures and statistical mechanisms: the
case from lexical category disambiguation'' by Matthew W. Crocker and
Steffan Corley. In their paper, Crocker and Corley review a modular,
statistical model of human lexical category disambiguation (Corley and
Crocker 2000). Lexical frequency is an important factor in their
model, but unlike Kim et al. they argue that lexical and syntactic
processing are separate processes. They present empirical evidence to
support this.

Chapter 10: ''Encoding and storage in working memory during sentence
comprehension'' by Laurie A. Stowe, Rienk G. Withaar, Albertus
A. Wijers, Cees A.J. Broere and Anne M.J. Paans. Stowe et al. present
brain imaging studies that show the importance of three different
areas in sentence processing. More specifically, there are different
areas of activation for the encoding of lexical information, storage
of lexical and phrasal information in memory, and the processing of
the syntactic structures, thus suggesting different areas for storage
and processing. They discuss the complex relation between the lexicon
and syntax in this regard and the impact of these findings on models
of sentence processing.

Chapter 11: ''The time course of information integration in sentence
processing'' by Michael J. Spivey, Stanka A. Fitneva, Whitney Tabor
and Sameer Ajmani. Spivey et al. challenge previous papers in Part II
and argue for an interactive non-modular constraint-based model of
sentence processing.

Part III: Details of lexical entries

Chapter 12: ''The lexical source of unexpressed participants and their
role in sentence and discourse understanding'' by Gail Mauner,
Jean-Pierre Koenig, Alissa Melinger and Breton Bienvenue. Mauner et
al. discuss the role of syntax in the lexicon regarding the content of
lexical entries. Supported with evidence from experiments involving
the processing of agentless passives, they explore the idea that
unexpressed arguments are used in sentence processing immediately at
the verb as part of the argument structure of the verb.

Chapter 13: ''Reduced relatives judged hard require constraint-based
analyses'' by Hana Filip, Michael K. Tanenhaus, Gregory N. Carlson,
Paul D. Allopenna and Joshua Blatt. Filip et al. further explore the
idea that the processing difficulty that arises in reduced relative
clauses is a result of the inherent lexical semantic class of the
verbs used as passive participles in reduced relatives. They claim
that the semantic variables play a much greater role in the
differences than syntactic complexity.

Chapter 14: ''Predicting thematic role assignments in context'' by
Gerry T.M. Altmann. Similar to the previous chapter, Altmann also
develops a proposal that involves finer-grained semantic information
to define thematic roles with an emphasis on probabilistic use of this
information. Altmann presents experimental data in support of this and
discusses the implications within a connectionist framework.

Chapter 15: ''Lexical semantics as a basis for argument structure
frequency biases'' by Vered Argaman and Neal J. Pearlmutter. Argaman
and Pearlmutter extend the lexical semantic theories of argument
structure of Pinker (1989) and Levin (1993) and propose that
differences in argument structure biases are a function of
semantics. They present survey and corpus data in support of this.
They conclude with some further directions for the study of frequency
effects in language processing.

Chapter 16: ''Verb sense and verb subcategorization probabilities'' by
Douglas Roland and Daniel Jurafsky. Roland and Jurafsky argue for the
''Lemma Argument Probability hypothesis; a proposal that a separate
set of subcategorization probabilities found are associated with each
sense of a word in the mental lexicon''. They provide corpus data to
support this proposal for verbs, but argue that this is also the case
for adjectives and nouns. Their findings converge with those of
Argaman and Pearlmutter.


This volume provides a well-rounded and fair discussion of the issues
at hand - i.e. there is no bias for one side or the other,
e.g. regarding the relationship between syntax and the lexicon or the
structure and content of the lexicon. There are good links between
chapters - the chapters in each section generally acknowledge each
other and integrate the issues surrounding the lexicon discussed into
the larger framework of processing, though this is more prevalent in
Part I.

This volume is probably not intended for beginners - some papers
require a more advanced knowledge of linguistics, computational
linguistics and psychology. Some of the papers may seem overwhelming
in that they discuss similar issues, e.g. frequency in the lexicon,
from different perspectives and with very different views, however,
the introductory chapter by the editors should serve as a good tool to
integrate the issues and the views presented in this volume.

In general this is a fantastic discussion of issues in sentence
processing such as: what is the relationship between the lexicon and
syntax: does one constitute part of the other; are they separate
processes; and what information does the lexicon contain.


Corely, S. & Crocker, M. W. (2000). The Modular Statistical
Hypothesis: Exploring Lexical Category Ambiguity. In: Crocker,
Pickering & Clifton (Eds.) Architectures and Mechanisms for Language
Processing, pp. 135-160. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Levin, B. (1993). English verb classes and alternations: a preliminary
investigation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Pinker, S. (1989). Learnability and Cognition: the acquisition of
argument structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 


Carrie Ankerstein is a PhD student in the department of Human
Communication Sciences at the University of Sheffield, England. She
has a Masters in Applied Linguistics from the University of Cambridge,
England and a Bachelor's degree in German Linguistics from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA / University of Freiburg,
Germany. Her research interests include the organization and
representation of concepts in semantic memory and the relation of
semantics and the lexicon in language processing.
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