Robert C. Berwick

Robert C. Berwick is Professor of Computational Linguistics and Computer Science and Engineering, in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society at MIT and the author of Computational Complexity and Natural Language and The Acquisition of Syntactic Knowledge, both published by the MIT Press.

  • Why Only Us

    Why Only Us

    Language and Evolution

    Robert C. Berwick and Noam Chomsky

    Berwick and Chomsky draw on recent developments in linguistic theory to offer an evolutionary account of language and humans' remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire it.

    “A loosely connected collection of four essays that will fascinate anyone interested in the extraordinary phenomenon of language.”— New York Review of Books

    We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language—“the language faculty”—raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars—a computer scientist and a linguist—addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.

    Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky explain that until recently the evolutionary question could not be properly posed, because we did not have a clear idea of how to define “language” and therefore what it was that had evolved. But since the Minimalist Program, developed by Chomsky and others, we know the key ingredients of language and can put together an account of the evolution of human language and what distinguishes us from all other animals.

    Berwick and Chomsky discuss the biolinguistic perspective on language, which views language as a particular object of the biological world; the computational efficiency of language as a system of thought and understanding; the tension between Darwin's idea of gradual change and our contemporary understanding about evolutionary change and language; and evidence from nonhuman animals, in particular vocal learning in songbirds.

    • Hardcover $22.95 £17.99
    • Paperback $15.95 £12.99
  • Computational Complexity and Natural Language

    Computational Complexity and Natural Language

    G Edward Barton, Robert C. Berwick, and Eric Sven Ristad

    Computational Complexity and Natural Language heralds an entirely new way of looking at grammatical systems. It applies the recently developed computer science tool of complexity theory to the study of natural language. A unified and coherent account emerges of how complexity theory can probe the information-processing structure of grammars, discovering why a grammar is easy or difficult to process and suggesting where to look for additional grammatical constraints. For the linguist or cognitive scientist, the book presents a nontechnical introduction to complexity theory and discusses its strengths, its weaknesses, and how it can be used to study grammars. For the computer scientist, it offers a more sophisticated and efficient computational analysis of linguistic theories. Given the variety of new techniques rising from complexity theory, the authors foresee a developing cooperation among linguists, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists toward understanding the nature of human language. The book also describes a set of case studies that use complexity theory to analyze grammatical problems. And it examines several grammatical systems currently of interest to computational linguists - including spelling-change/dictionary lookup and morphological analysis, agreement processes in natural language, and lexical-functional grammar - demonstrating how complexity analysis can illuminate and improve each one.

    A Bradford Book.

    • Hardcover $48.00
    • Paperback $40.00 £30.00
  • The Acquisition of Syntactic Knowledge

    The Acquisition of Syntactic Knowledge

    Robert C. Berwick

    This landmark work in computational linguistics is of great importance both theoretically and practically because it shows that much of English grammar can be learned by a simple program. The Acquisition of Syntactic Knowledge investigates the central questions of human and machine cognition: How do people learn language? How can we get a machine to learn language? It first presents an explicit computational model of language acquisition which can actually learn rules of English syntax given a sequence of grammatical, but otherwise unprepared, sentences. It shows that natural languages are designed to be easily learned and easily processed-an exciting breakthrough from the point of view of artificial intelligence and the design of expert systems because it shows how extensive knowledge might be acquired automatically, without outside intervention. Computationally, the book demonstrates how constraints that may be reasonably assumed to aid sentence processing also aid language acquisition. Chapters in the book's second part apply computational methods to the general problem of developmental growth, particularly the thorny problem of the interaction between innate genetic endowment and environmental input, with the intent of uncovering the constraints on the acquisition of syntactic knowledge. A number of "mini-theories" of learning are incorporated in this study of syntax with results that should appeal to a wide range of scholarly interests. These include how lexical categories, phonological rule systems, and phrase structure rules are learned; the role of semantic-syntactic interaction in language acquisition; how a "parameter setting" model may be formalized as a learning procedure; how multiple constraints (from syntax, thematic knowledge, or phrase structure) interact to aid acquisition; how transformational-type rules may be learned; and, the role of lexical ambiguity in language acquisition.

    The Acquisition of Syntactic Knowledge is sixteenth in the Artificial Intelligence Series, edited by Patrick Winston and Michael Brady.

    • Hardcover $13.75 £10.50
  • The Grammatical Basis of Linguistic Performance

    The Grammatical Basis of Linguistic Performance

    Language Use and Acquisition

    Robert C. Berwick and Amy S. Weinberg

    Written primarily from the perspective of computational theory, Grammatical Basis of Linguistic Performance presents a synthesis of some major recent developments in grammatical theory and its application to models of language performance. Its main thesis is that Chomsky's government-binding theory is a good foundation for models of both machine parsing and language learnability.

    The book is eleventh in the series Current Studies in Linguistics.

    • Hardcover $37.50
    • Paperback $32.00 £25.00
  • Computational Models of Discourse

    Computational Models of Discourse

    Michael Brady and Robert C. Berwick

    As the contributions to this book make clear, a fundamental change is taking place in the study of computational linguistics analogous to that which has taken place in the study of computer vision over the past few years and indicative of trends that are likely to affect future work in artificial intelligence generally. The first wave of efforts on machine translation and the formal mathematical study of parsing yielded little real insight into how natural language could be understood by computers or how computers could lead to an understanding of natural language. The current wave of research seeks both to include a wider and more realistic range of features found in human languages and to limit the dimensions of program goals. Some of the new programs embody for the first time constraints on human parsing which Chomsky has uncovered, for example. The isolation of constraints and the representations for their expression, rather than the design of mechanisms and ideas about process organization, is central to the work reported in this volume. And if present goals are somewhat less ambitious, they are also more realistic and more realizable.

    Contents Computational Aspects of Discourse, Robert Berwick • Recognizing Intentions from Natural Language Utterances, James Allen • Cooperative Responses from a Portable Natural Language Data Base Query System, Jerrold Kaplan • Natural Language Generation as a Computational Problem: An Introduction, David McDonald • Focusing in the Comprehension of Definite Anaphor, Candace Sidner • So What Can We Talk About Now? Bonnie Webber • A Preface by David Israel relates these chapters to the general considerations of philosophers and psycholinguists

    • Hardcover $55.00
    • Paperback $45.00 £35.00


  • Birdsong, Speech, and Language

    Birdsong, Speech, and Language

    Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain

    Johan J. Bolhuis and Martin Everaert

    Prominent scholars consider the cognitive and neural similarities between birdsong and human speech and language.

    Scholars have long been captivated by the parallels between birdsong and human speech and language. In this book, leading scholars draw on the latest research to explore what birdsong can tell us about the biology of human speech and language and the consequences for evolutionary biology. After outlining the basic issues involved in the study of both language and evolution, the contributors compare birdsong and language in terms of acquisition, recursion, and core structural properties, and then examine the neurobiology of song and speech, genomic factors, and the emergence and evolution of language.

    Contributors Hermann Ackermann, Gabriël J.L. Beckers, Robert C. Berwick, Johan J. Bolhuis, Noam Chomsky, Frank Eisner, Martin Everaert, Michale S. Fee, Olga Fehér, Simon E. Fisher, W. Tecumseh Fitch, Jonathan B. Fritz, Sharon M.H. Gobes, Riny Huijbregts, Eric Jarvis, Robert Lachlan, Ann Law, Michael A. Long, Gary F. Marcus, Carolyn McGettigan, Daniel Mietchen, Richard Mooney, Sanne Moorman, Kazuo Okanoya, Christophe Pallier, Irene M. Pepperberg, Jonathan F. Prather, Franck Ramus, Eric Reuland, Constance Scharff, Sophie K. Scott, Neil Smith, Ofer Tchernichovski, Carel ten Cate, Christopher K. Thompson, Frank Wijnen, Moira Yip, Wolfram Ziegler, Willem Zuidema

    • Hardcover $57.00 £44.00
    • Paperback $34.00 £27.00