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Jacob Louis Hoover

PhD - McGill University


The Plausibility of Sampling as an Algorithmic Theory of Sentence Processing
Jacob Louis Hoover
Morgan Sonderegger
Steven T. Piantadosi
Abstract Words that are more surprising given context take longer to process. However, no incremental parsing algorithm has been shown to di… (see more)rectly predict this phenomenon. In this work, we focus on a class of algorithms whose runtime does naturally scale in surprisal—those that involve repeatedly sampling from the prior. Our first contribution is to show that simple examples of such algorithms predict runtime to increase superlinearly with surprisal, and also predict variance in runtime to increase. These two predictions stand in contrast with literature on surprisal theory (Hale, 2001; Levy, 2008a) which assumes that the expected processing cost increases linearly with surprisal, and makes no prediction about variance. In the second part of this paper, we conduct an empirical study of the relationship between surprisal and reading time, using a collection of modern language models to estimate surprisal. We find that with better language models, reading time increases superlinearly in surprisal, and also that variance increases. These results are consistent with the predictions of sampling-based algorithms.