Linguistics Speaker Series: Tal Linzen

On the Syntactic Abilities of Recurrent Neural Networks

Recent technological advances have made it possible to train recurrent neural networks (RNNs) on a much larger scale than before. These networks have proved effective in applications such as machine translation and speech recognition. These engineering advances are surprising from a cognitive point of view: RNNs do not have the kind of explicit structural representations that are typically thought to be necessarily for syntactic processing. In this talk, I will discuss studies that go beyond standard engineering benchmarks and examine the syntactic capabilities of contemporary RNNs using established cognitive and linguistic diagnostics. These studies show that RNNs are able to compute agreement relations with considerable success across languages, although their error rate increases in complex sentences. A comparison of the detailed pattern of agreement errors made by RNNs to those made by humans in a behavioral experiment reveals some similarities (attraction errors, number asymmetry) but also some differences (relative clause modifiers increase the probability of attraction errors in RNNs but decrease it in humans). Overall, RNNs can learn to exhibit sophisticated syntactic behavior despite the lack of an explicit hierarchical bias, but their behavior differs from humans in important ways.

Bio: Tal Linzen is an Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins University. Before moving to Johns Hopkins in 2017, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he worked with Emmanuel Dupoux and Benjamin Spector; before that he obtained his PhD from the Department of Linguistics at New York University in 2015, under the supervision of Alec Marantz. Dr. Linzen directs the Computational Psycholinguistics Lab, which develops computational models of human language comprehension and acquisition, as well as methods for interpreting and evaluating neural network models for natural language processing.

Friday, October 19, 2018 at 3:30pm

Poulton Hall, 230
1421 37th St., N.W., Washington


Georgetown College, Linguistics

Event Contact Name

Conor Sinclair

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