Michael Wilson, Jackson Petty and Bob Frank present at Jabberwocky Words in Linguistics

Announcement for Jaberwocky Words in Linguistics
February 28, 2022

Michael Wilson, Jackson Petty and Bob Frank recently presented their work at the on-line workshop on Jabberwocky Words in Linguistics, jointly organized by UMass and the University of Bucharest. This workshop brought together scholars who are exploring how nonce words can be used to reveal subtle properties of human language, including how it is represented, processed and learned. Wilson, Petty and Frank’s presentation, entitled “Probing language models’ knowledge of position-role mappings with novel word learning” reported on a set of experiments that used Jabberwocky words to assess the knowledge of the mappings between syntactic position and thematic role in language models like BERT, which form the foundation of contemporary NLP systems. Their work demonstrates that in spite of the absence of any innate linguistics bias, these models do indeed come to possess knowledge of mappings that generalize across lexical items and syntactic structures. This provides a demonstration of the learnability of position-role mappings, but it remains to be seen whether such learning can take place with the same rapidity we see in children or without the vast datasets on which these models are trained.

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