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Reply to the Commentary “Be Careful When Assuming the Obvious” by P.M. Alday

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      Here we respond to some comments by Alday concerning headedness in linguistic theory and the validity of the assumptions of a mathematical model for word order. For brevity, we focus only on two assumptions: the unit of measurement of dependency length and the monotonicity of the cost of a dependency as a function of its length. We also revise the implicit psychological bias in Alday’s comments. Notwithstanding, Alday is indicating the path for linguistic research with his unusual concerns about parsimony from multiple dimensions.

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      Computational principles of working memory in sentence comprehension.

      Understanding a sentence requires a working memory of the partial products of comprehension, so that linguistic relations between temporally distal parts of the sentence can be rapidly computed. We describe an emerging theoretical framework for this working memory system that incorporates several independently motivated principles of memory: a sharply limited attentional focus, rapid retrieval of item (but not order) information subject to interference from similar items, and activation decay (forgetting over time). A computational model embodying these principles provides an explanation of the functional capacities and severe limitations of human processing, as well as accounts of reading times. The broad implication is that the detailed nature of cross-linguistic sentence processing emerges from the interaction of general principles of human memory with the specialized task of language comprehension.
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        Be Careful When Assuming the Obvious

        Ferrer-i-Cancho (this volume) presents a mathematical model of both the synchronic and diachronic nature of word order based on the assumption that memory costs are a never decreasing function of distance and a few very general linguistic assumptions. However, even these minimal and seemingly obvious assumptions are not as safe as they appear in light of recent typological and psycholinguistic evidence. The interaction of word order and memory has further depths to be explored.

          Author and article information

          Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya rferrericancho@
          Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya rferrericancho@
          Language Dynamics and Change
          Brill (The Netherlands )
          : 5
          : 1
          : 147-155
          Copyright 2015 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


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