A Mathematical Model for Linguistic Universals

07/29/2019 ∙ by Weinan E, et al. ∙ Princeton University Peking University 12

Inspired by chemical kinetics and neurobiology, we propose a mathematical theory for pattern recurrence in text documents, applicable to a wide variety of languages. We present a Markov model at the discourse level for Steven Pinker's "mentalese", or chains of mental states that transcend the spoken/written forms. Such (potentially) universal temporal structures of textual patterns lead us to a language-independent semantic representation, or a translationally-invariant word embedding, thereby forming the common ground for both comprehensibility within a given language and translatability between different languages. Applying our model to documents of moderate lengths, without relying on external knowledge bases, we reconcile Noam Chomsky's "poverty of stimulus" paradox with statistical learning of natural languages.

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