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Subregular Linguistics for Linguists

Graf, Thomas

Abstract Drawing from computational work that is known as the subregular program, I argue against two received views in linguistics: “phonology and syntax are very different’ and “subcategorization is a solved problem”.

  1. Cognitive parallelism
    Subregular notions of complexity can be applied to strings as well as trees. Doing so reveals that phonology and syntax are remarkably similar (and those parallels even extend into morphology and semantics). For instance, islands and blocking effects are instances of the same computational mechanism.

  2. Subcategorization
    Subcategorization (or c-selection) is rarely studied by linguists, but it is actually a source of tremendous overgeneration. Once again subregular notions of complexity can be used to address this problem. This isn’t just a mathematical exercise, but makes concrete empirical predictions about the nature of category systems, subcategorization, the status of empty heads, the DP-analysis, DM-style roots, and once again highlights parallels to phonology.

The general upshot is that subregular concepts, despite their computational origin, are intuitive and linguistically fertile: they address conceptual issues, bridge gaps between linguistic subfields, and make concrete empirical predictions. Subregular linguistics is just linguistics with some computational flavor sprinkled on top.

Disclaimer: This talk is 100% formula-free.

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@misc{Graf19UMasstalk,
    author = {Graf, Thomas},
    title = {Subregular Linguistics for Linguists},
    year = {2019},
    note = {Invited talk, November 8, UMass Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts}
}

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