Connectionist Models and Linguistic Theory: Investigations of Stress Systems in Language

Prahlad Gupta and David S. Touretzky

Cognitive Science 18(1):1-15, January, 1994


We question the widespread assumption that linguistic theory should guide the formulation of mechanistic accounts of human language processing. We develop a pseudo-linguistic theory for the domain of linguistic stress, based on observation of the learning behavior of a perceptron exposed to a variety of stress patterns. There are significant similarities between our analysis of perceptron stress learning and metrical phonology, the linguistic theory of human stress. Both approaches attempt to identify salient characteristics of the stress systems under examination without reference to the workings of the underlying processor. Our theory and computer simulations exhibit some strikingly suggestive correspondences with metrical theory. We show, however, that our high-level pseudo-linguistic account bears no causal relation to processing in the perceptron, and provides little insight into the nature of this processing. Because of the persuasive similarities between the nature of our theory and linguistic theorizing, we suggest that linguistic theory may be in much the same position. Contrary to the usual assumption, it may not provide useful guidance in attempts to identify processing mechanisms underlying human language.