From: Jakub Szymanik <j.szymanikuva.nl>
Subject: Quantifiers in TIME and SPACE: Computational complexity of generalized quantifiers in natural language
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Institution: Institute for Logic, Language and Computation
Program: Logic & Language
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009
Author: Jakub Szymanik
Dissertation Title: Quantifiers in TIME and SPACE: Computational complexity of generalized quantifiers in natural language
Philosophy of Language
Theo A. Janssen
Johan van Benthem
In the dissertation we study the complexity of generalized quantifiers in
natural language. Our perspective is interdisciplinary: we combine
philosophical insights with theoretical computer science, experimental
cognitive science and linguistic theories.
We argue for identifying a part of meaning, the so-called referential
meaning (model-checking), with algorithms. Then, we discuss the influence
of computational complexity theory on cognitive tasks to motivate technical
considerations which follow.
First, we study computational complexity of quantifier iteration,
cumulation, resumption, branching and Ramseyification. Then we investigate
the computational complexity of polyadic lifts expressing various readings
of reciprocal sentences with quantified antecedents and establish a
dichotomy between these readings: the strong reciprocal reading can create
NP-complete constructions, while the weak and the intermediate reciprocal
readings do not. We argue that this difference should be acknowledged in
the Strong Meaning hypothesis.
Moreover, we study the definability and complexity of the type-shifting
approach to collective quantification in natural language. We show that
under reasonable complexity assumptions it is not general enough to cover
the semantics of all collective quantifiers in natural language. Moreover,
we suggest that some collective quantifiers might not be realized in
everyday language due to their high computational complexity. Additionally,
we introduce the so-called second-order generalized quantifiers to the
study of collective semantics.
Theoretical discussion is followed by the empirical investigations. We
study the statement known as Hintikka's thesis: that the semantics of
sentences like 'Most boys and most girls hate each other' is not
expressible by linear formulae and one needs to use branching
quantification. We discuss possible readings of such sentences and come to
the conclusion that they are expressible by linear formulae, as opposed to
what Hintikka states. Next, we propose empirical evidence confirming our
theoretical predictions that these sentences are sometimes interpreted by
people as having the conjunctional reading.
Finally, we discuss a computational semantics for monadic quantifiers in
natural language. We recall that it can be expressed in terms of
finite-state and push-down automata. Then we present and criticize the
neurological research building on this model. The discussion leads to a new
experimental set-up which provides empirical evidence confirming the
complexity predictions of the computational model. We show that the
differences in reaction time needed for comprehension of sentences with
monadic quantifiers are consistent with the complexity differences
predicted by the model.
In general, our research explores, from different perspectives, the
advantages of identifying meaning with algorithms and applying
computational complexity analysis to semantic issues. It shows the
fruitfulness of such an abstract computational approach for linguistics and
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