On Generative Capacity of Natural Language: Human and Non-Human

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Invited Talk by Dr. Sandiway Fong

*Please Note: This talk will be delivered via Skype

Abstract:  There has been recent interest on distinguishing the generative capacity required for human language versus language for other animals. There has been a long history of discourse on the generative capacity of human language. For example, results involving center-embedding phenomena and cross-serial dependencies point to the fact that human language is intrinsically non-finite state and non-context-free, respectively. There has been further debate as to whether human language belongs to the class of mildly context-sensitive languages. However, given our inability to properly deconstruct utterance meanings for non-humans, there have been comparatively few results about the generative capacity of animal utterances. Nevertheless, there are observable constraints about the surface structure of non-human utterances. For example, birdsong has been analyzed as being of finite state capacity. In this talk, we will analyze the utterances of non-human primates from a formal language
perspective. In particular, we will suggest that northern muriquis, also known as woolly spider monkeys, generate utterances that are non-context-free: in fact, beyond mildly context-sensitive in nature. (Joint work with Didier Demolin, GIPSA Lab, Grenoble, France).

Sponsored by the School of Modern Languages, the Ivan Allen College Dean's Office, and the School of Interactive Computing


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Carol Silvers
  • Created: 10/10/2011
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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