Psychological and Computational Models of Language Comprehension: In Defense of the Psychological Reality of Syntax

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 11 (1):31-72 (2011)
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Abstract

In this paper, I argue for a modified version of what Devitt calls the Representational Thesis. According to RT, syntactic rules or principles are psychologically real, in the sense that they are represented in the mind/brain of every linguistically competent speaker/hearer. I present a range of behavioral and neurophysiological evidence for the claim that the human sentence processing mechanism constructs mental representations of the syntactic properties of linguistic stimuli. I then survey a range of psychologically plausible computational models of comprehension and show that they are all committed to RT. I go on to sketch a framework for thinking about the nature of the representations involved in sentence processing. My claim is that these are best characterized not as propositional attitudes but, rather, as subpersonal states whose representational properties are determined by their functional role. Finally, I distinguish between explicit and implicit representations and argue that the latter can be drawn on as data by the algorithms that constitute our sentence processing routines. I conclude that skepticism concerning the psychological reality of grammars cannot be sustained

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David Pereplyotchik
Kent State University

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