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On the Psychological Status of Linguistic Units

March 11, 2004

Date: Thursday, March 11th, 2004
Time: 11am-12:15pm
Location: Woodward 149

Jay McClelland, <>
Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh

Abstract: Through the invention and proliferation of written language, it has become second nature to view utterances as composed of words, words as composed of morphemes and syllables, and syllables as composed of phonetic segments. In this talk I will argue from the properties of connectionist models and from facts about language that have been pointed out by Bybee and others that it might be best to view all of these units, not as items with psychological reality as units per se, but as contrivances that have proven useful for the construction of a notational system that allows for the approximate transcription of spoken language. The development of explicit theory that eschews all units is a task for the future, a journey I at least am just beginning. I intend to explore in future work how far such a journey may lead us and will use this talk to sketch out a few initial steps in this direction.