Learning Syntactic Constructions from Raw Corpora

Construction-based approaches to syntax (Croft, 2001; Goldberg, 2003) posit a lexicon populated by units of various sizes, as envisaged by (Langacker, 1987). Constructions may be specified completely, as in the case of simple morphemes or idioms such as take it to the bank, or partially, as in the expression what’s X doing Y?, where X and Y are slots that admit fillers of particular types (Kay and Fillmore, 1999). Constructions offer an intriguing alternative to traditional rule-based syntax by hinting at the extent to which the complexity of language can stem from a rich repertoire of stored, more or less entrenched (Harris, 1998) representations that address both syntactic and semantic issues, and encompass, in addition to general rules, “totally idiosyncratic forms and patterns of all intermediate degrees of generality” (Langacker, 1987, p.46). Because constructions are by their very nature language-specific, the question of acquisition in Construction Grammar is especially poignant. We address this issue by offering an unsupervised algorithm that learns constructions from raw corpora.
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