Dr.  William  Gregory Sakas - RESEARCH

Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Computer Science, Hunter College
Director, Computational Linguistics Program, The Graduate Center
Doctoral Faculties of Linguistics and Computer Science, The Graduate Center
City University of New York (CUNY)

    Home page      . CUNY-CoLAG and Available Papers


My primary line of research involves the building and study of psychocomputational models of first language acquisition. In other words, I use computational techniques to model the process by which children learn the grammar of  their  native (first) language.

Most of these models consist of three core components:

  • the linguistic framework (the grammar formalism(s))
  • the linguistic environment (the utterances encountered by the language learner )
  • the algorithm which the learner employs to achieve the final (correct) grammar
  • One key research question is: 
    Given a framework and an algorithm, what properties of the linguistic environment are most/least conducive to efficient learning?

    An important focus is the effect of cross-language ambiguity on learning efficiency. Many sentence forms (for example Subject Verb Object) occur across many languages. It is unclear how children, given the set of ambiguous forms they are exposed to, are so efficiently able to determine the correct grammar that generates their  native language.

    I have demonstrated that for a variety of proposed learning algorithms (within Chomsky's principles and parameters framework) there is a narrow range of linguistic conditions that support efficient learning and that these conditions are quite different for different algorithms. This leads to the (perhaps not so surprising) conclusion that the success of any computer model of human language acquisition must be measured against the match between the abstract computational/linguistic environment the model 'lives in' and the actual facts that delineate true human grammars.

    Towards this end, together with Janet Fodor, CUNY,  I have led a research group CUNY-CoLAG that has created a systematic artificial, but linguistically compelling,  language domain of over 3,000 abstract languages. CUNY-CoLAG and available papers here.