A Computational Model for the Acquisition and Use of Phonological Knowledge

Unknown author (1996-03-01)

Does knowledge of language consist of symbolic rules? How do children learn and use their linguistic knowledge? To elucidate these questions, we present a computational model that acquires phonological knowledge from a corpus of common English nouns and verbs. In our model the phonological knowledge is encapsulated as boolean constraints operating on classical linguistic representations of speech sounds in term of distinctive features. The learning algorithm compiles a corpus of words into increasingly sophisticated constraints. The algorithm is incremental, greedy, and fast. It yields one-shot learning of phonological constraints from a few examples. Our system exhibits behavior similar to that of young children learning phonological knowledge. As a bonus the constraints can be interpreted as classical linguistic rules. The computational model can be implemented by a surprisingly simple hardware mechanism. Our mechanism also sheds light on a fundamental AI question: How are signals related to symbols?