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Languages and writing systems result from satisfying multiple constraints related to learning, comprehension, production, and their biological bases. Orthographies are not optimal because these constraints often conflict, with further deviations due to accidents of history and geography. Things tend to even out because writing systems and the languages they represent exhibit systematic trade-offs between orthographic depth and morphological complexity.
We distinguish between literal and metaphorical applications of Bayesian models. When intended literally, an isomorphism exists between the elements of representation assumed by the rational analysis and the mechanism that implements the computation. Thus, observation of the implementation can externally validate assumptions underlying the rational analysis. In other applications, no such isomorphism exists, so it is not clear how the assumptions that allow a Bayesian model to fit data can be independently validated.
Reading educators and clinicians dating from Orton (1928) have asserted that dyslexic children exhibit impairments in one or more aspects of the reading process that are not seen in nondyslexic children. There has been chronic disagreement about the identity and causes of these impairments, but their existence has been generally assumed. We will term this the standard view of dyslexia.
Children assessed as reading disabled are often thought to use decoding processes that differ from those of nondisabled children. This assumption was examined in a study that compared the word recognition skills of a group of clinic-diagnosed reading disabled children with those of good and poor readers. Subjects read words and nonwords containing either regular or homographic spelling patterns. Regular patterns have a single pronunciation (e.g., -UST) while homographic patterns have multiple pronunciations (e.g., -ONE). Analyses of the errors, latencies, and types of pronunciations indicated that while the performance of the poor and disabled readers differed from that of the good readers, the two below-average reader groups were very similar. The reading disabled children exhibited decoding processes similar to those exhibited by younger nondisabled readers. The results suggest that many children who meet the diagnostic criteria for reading disability may be indistinguishable from nondisabled children in terms of actual reading performance.
In order to understand the relationship between syntactic theory and how people parse sentences, it is first necessary to understand the more general relationship between the grammar and the general cognitive system (GCS). The Chomskyan view, adhered to by most linguists working within the modern generative framework, is that the grammar is a cognitive subsystem whose vocabulary and operations are defined independently of the GCS and account for the structure of language (Chomsky, 1980). Linguistics is thus the branch of theoretical cognitive psychology which explains language structure.
There is another possible relationship between the grammar and the GCS in which linguistics does not play a primary theoretical role in explaining language structure. On this view, the structure of language is explained by basic principles of the GCS – for example, the nature of concepts in interaction with basic properties of the human information processing system. If this view is correct, grammars become convenient organizational frameworks for describing the structure of language. Linguistics is then a descriptive rather than a theoretical branch of cognitive psychology. The linguistics-as-descriptive position was held by the American Structuralists and is presently being revived from a somewhat different perspective in the form of “cognitive grammar” (Lakoff, in press).
These two frameworks for understanding the relationship between grammars and the cognitive system – linguistics as explanation and linguistics as description – suggest different research strategies for answering the question posed by the theme of this book: namely, What is the relationship between syntactic theory and how listeners parse sentences?
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