Clippers 10/19: William Schuler on the reality of syntactic categories

Are syntactic categories real?

People can express novel, precise complex ideas — plans with sophisticated contingencies, predictive models of interrelated uncertain events, and more — which seems to suggest a formal, compositional semantics in which sentences are divided into categories with associated semantic functions. But state-of-the-art NLP systems – transformers like BERT and GPT-3 — don’t work like that. This talk will review evidence about syntactic categories from sentence processing experiments and grammar inductions simulations conducted over the past few years in the OSU computational cognitive modeling lab, and hazard some guesses about the cognitive status of syntactic categories.