Learning the Past Tense of English Verbs: The Symbolic Pattern Associator vs. Connectionist Models

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Learning the past tense of English verbs - a seemingly minor aspect of language acquisition - has generated heated debates since 1986, and has become a landmark task for testing the adequacy of cognitive modeling. Several artificial neural networks (ANNs) have been implemented, and a challenge for better symbolic models has been posed. In this paper, we present a general-purpose Symbolic Pattern Associator (SPA) based upon the decision-tree learning algorithm ID3. We conduct extensive head-to-head comparisons on the generalization ability between ANN models and the SPA under different representations. We conclude that the SPA generalizes the past tense of unseen verbs better than ANN models by a wide margin, and we offer insights as to why this should be the case. We also discuss a new default strategy for decision-tree learning algorithms.

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