LINGUIST List 15.199

Tue Jan 20 2004

Media: Science: Fitch & Hauser: Computational...

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <stevelinguistlist.org>


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  1. Mark Liberman, Fitch & Hauser: Computational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate

Message 1: Fitch & Hauser: Computational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate

Date: Sat, 17 Jan 2004 11:54:25 -0500
From: Mark Liberman <mylsurprise.cis.upenn.edu>
Subject: Fitch & Hauser: Computational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate


In Science magazine of January 16, 2004, there is an interesting
article by Fitch and Hauser entitled "Computatational Constraints on
Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate". The authors describe an
experiment that they characterize as showing that sotton-top tamarins
"can master" finite state grammars, but "were unable to master a
grammar at [the] 'phrase structure grammar' level."

In http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000355.html, I
review the details of their experiment, and conclude that they have
over-interpreted its results, and that there is a plausible
alternative account in terms of memory span and/or sensitivity to
statistical deviations, making no (implicit or explicit) reference to
classes of grammars.

The experimental paradigm is very promising, and the experiment itself
is interesting, but the very sweeping interpretation given to the
results is not warranted, and is likely to mislead people who don't
look carefully at how the experiment actually worked.
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