A note on Computational Models of Psycholinguistics

I would like to sum up a clear synthesis and state of the art of scientific traditions and ways to deal with language features as a whole. In a chapter entitled ‘Computational Models of Psycholinguistics’ and published in the Cambridge Handbook of Psycholinguistics, Nick Chater and Morten H. Christiansen distinguish three main traditions in psycholinguistic language modeling :

  • a symbolic (Chomskyan) tradition
  • connectionnist psycholinguistics
  • probabilistic models

They state that the Chomskyan approach (as well as nativist theories of language in general) outweighed until recently by far any other one, setting the ground for cognitive science :

Chomsky’s arguments concerning the formal and computational properties of human language were one of the strongest and most influential lines of argument behind the development of the field of cognitive science, in opposition to behaviorism.” (p. 477)

The Symbolic Tradition

They describe the derivational theory of complexity (the hypothesis that number and complexity of transformations correlate with processing time and difficulty) as proving ‘a poor computational model when compared with empirical data’ (p. 479). Further work on generative grammar considered the relationship between linguistic theory and processing as indirect, this is how they explain that this Chomskyan tradition progressively disengaged from work on computational modeling ...

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Gerolinguistics” and text comprehension

The field of “gerolinguistics” is becoming more and more important. The word was first coined by G. Cohen in 1979 and it has been regularly used ever since.

How do older people read ? How do they perform when trying to understand difficult sentences ? It was the idea I was following when I recently decided to read a few papers about linguistic abilities and aging. As I work on different reader profiles I thought it would be an interesting starting point.

The fact is that I did not find what I was looking for, but was not disappointed since the assumption I had made on this matter were proved wrong by recent research. Here is what I learned.

Interindividual variability increases with age

First of all, it is difficult to build a specific profile that would address ‘older people’, as this is a vast category which is merely a subclass of the ‘readers’, and which (as them) contains lots of variable individual evolutions. Very old people (and not necesarily old people) do have more difficulties to read, but this can be caused by very different factors. Most of all, age is not a useful predictor :

Many aspects of language comprehension remain ...

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