Teoria formale dei linguaggi e grammatica: dalla commutazione alla descrizione linguistica (2018/2019)

Course code
Name of lecturers
Denis Delfitto, Diego Gabriel Krivochen
Denis Delfitto
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
Sem. 2B dal Apr 8, 2019 al Jun 1, 2019.

Lesson timetable

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Learning outcomes

Part I. Formal language theory
The course aims at providing students with analytical tools from Formal Language Theory (FLT). At the end of the course students are expected to:
- acquire detailed knowledge on FLT, including the foundational assumptions, and possibilities and limitations of the formal framework;
- be able to identify and characterise different formal languages and grammars in the so-called Chomsky Hierarchy from the linguistic and psycholinguistic literature
- be able to evaluate FLT-related aspects of artificial grammar learning (AGL) paradigms: motivations, goals, and methods

Part II. Artificial grammars and natural language grammar(s)
At the end of the course, the students will be able to:
- apply their knowledge of FLT to the description of specific linguistic phenomena from the viewpoint of the theoretical framework of their choice;
- justify their theoretical and methodological choices in linguistic analysis (including observation, description, and explanation) from a formal point of view, identifying strengths and weaknesses of different linguistic theories in the description of specific phenomena;
- understand the relation between formal theories of computation and grammatical frameworks, how they inform each other, what the assumptions that underlie this relation are, and what empirical consequences they have


The first part of the course (Formal Language Theory) will be devoted to the presentation and analysis of FLT as a framework in which properties of languages and grammars can be made fully explicit. Specifically, we will analyse in detail the so-called Chomsky Hierarchy, an inclusive classification of formal languages and grammars. Grammars, as formal constructs, are structured in a hierarchy according to their generative power, such that more powerful grammars properly contain less powerful ones. The power of a grammar determines the structures it can generate, and because it can be defined and controlled for very precisely, formal grammars have interested not only grammarians, but also psycholinguists, who take advantage of FLT to devise language-independent protocols to
assess different aspects of cognitive computation. Students will be given the necessary tools to delve into primary sources and develop a critical perspective on the historical development of FLT and its various interpretations in linguistic and psycholinguistic theory. We will be primarily focused on discussions about what the ‘right’ amount of computing power is when attempting to (i) characterise aspects of natural language grammars and (ii) evaluate language-independent AGL protocols that rely on FLT.

The aim of the second part will be to apply the formal tools identified and characterised in the first part to linguistic phenomena. We will permanently go back and forth between formal languages and natural languages, and bearing the Chomsky Hierarchy in mind, we will identify and analyse empirical phenomena in natural languages in terms of the formal device that best captures their syntactic and semantic properties. This will raise two fundamental questions: (i) which kinds of AGL protocols can target different computational dependencies and (ii) whether a single level in the Chomsky Hierarchy (that is, a single kind of computational device) can provide adequate characterisations for all and only grammatical expressions in natural languages, or whether a ‘mixed’ view of computation is required (and if so, how to formulate and implement it in concrete linguistic analysis). The overall goal of the course is that students are able to provide informed answers to these questions.

TEACHER: Dr. Diego Krivochen (University of Reading (UK))
Dr. Krivochen has been invited by prof. Denis Delfitto (who is the referent of this module).

SCHEDULE (36 contact hours, 6 CFU, starting on April 16)
- WEDNESDAY 14.00-15.40, AULA T.10
- FRIDAY 10.10-11.50, AULA LORENZI

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
Paul R. Kroeger Analyzing meaning. An introduction to semantics and pragmatics Language Science Press 2018

Assessment methods and criteria


The final exam aims at assessing the theoretical knowledge acquired by the students during the course, as well as their ability to apply this knowledge to concrete linguistic phenomena.

The final assessment will consist on a short squib (circa 3000 words, max. 5000 words) where the student will characterise a specific construction in a language and dialect of his/her choice (preferably his/her native) in terms of its computational properties. He/she will need to provide a description of the construction of his/her choice in terms of one of the levels in the Chomsky Hierarchy and justify this choice with syntactic and semantic arguments. Models for such kind of argumentation will have been given in class.

The evaluation criteria are:

- proof that the student has acquired the formal tools dealt with in class and is able to make creative use of them
- observational and descriptive adequacy of the proposed analysis
- clarity and explicitness in argumentation