Recurrent Neural Networks in Linguistic Theory: Revisiting Pinker and Prince (1988) and the Past Tense Debate

by   Christo Kirov, et al.

Can advances in NLP help advance cognitive modeling? We examine the role of artificial neural networks, the current state of the art in many common NLP tasks, by returning to a classic case study. In 1986, Rumelhart and McClelland famously introduced a neural architecture that learned to transduce English verb stems to their past tense forms. Shortly thereafter, Pinker & Prince (1988) presented a comprehensive rebuttal of many of Rumelhart and McClelland's claims. Much of the force of their attack centered on the empirical inadequacy of the Rumelhart and McClelland (1986) model. Today, however, that model is severely outmoded. We show that the Encoder-Decoder network architectures used in modern NLP systems obviate most of Pinker and Prince's criticisms without requiring any simplication of the past tense mapping problem. We suggest that the empirical performance of modern networks warrants a re-examination of their utility in linguistic and cognitive modeling.



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