Computational Consequences of Agreement and Ambiguity in Natural Language
The computer science technique of computational complexity analysis can provide powerful insights into the algorithm-neutral analysis of information processing tasks. Here we show that a simple, theory-neutral linguistic model of syntactic agreement and ambiguity demonstrates that natural language parsing may be computationally intractable. Significantly, we show that it may be syntactic features rather than rules that can cause this difficulty. Informally, human languages and the computationally intractable Satisfiability (SAT) problem share two costly computional mechanisms: both enforce agreement among symbols across unbounded distances (Subject-Verb agreement) and both allow ambiguity (is a word a Noun or a Verb?).