Varieties of Noisy Harmonic Grammar

Bruce Hayes
Department of Linguistics, UCLA

To appear in the  Proceedings volume of the 2016 Annual Meeting in Phonology (AMP), University of Southern California, Los Angeles


Noisy Harmonic Grammar (Boersma and Pater 2016) is a framework for stochastic grammars that uses the GEN-cum-EVAL system originated in Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993). As a form of Harmonic Grammar, NHG outputs as winner the candidate with the smallest harmonic penalty (weighted sum of constraint violations). It is stochastic because at each “evaluation time,” constraint weights are nudged upward or downward by a random amount, resulting in a particular probability distribution over candidates. This “classical” form of NHG can be modified in various ways, creating alternative theories. I explore these variants in a variety of simple simulations intended to reveal key differences in their behavior; maxent grammars (Goldwater and Johnson 2003) are also included in the comparison. In conclusion I offer hints from the empirical world regarding which of these rival theories might be correct. An overarching theme is that stochastic grammar frameworks are more than just “technologies” to be evaluated for convenience or reliability, but actual theories of language.

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