Title:

Aspects of emergent cyclicity in language and computation

This thesis has four parts, which correspond to the presentation and development of a theoretical framework for the study of cognitive capacities qua physical phenomena, and a case study of locality conditions over natural languages. Part I deals with computational considerations, setting the tone of the rest of the thesis, and introducing and defining critical concepts like ‘grammar’, ‘automaton’, and the relations between them . Fundamental questions concerning the place of formal language theory in linguistic inquiry, as well as the expressibility of linguistic and computational concepts in common terms, are raised in this part. Part II further explores the issues addressed in Part I with particular emphasis on how grammars are implemented by means of automata, and the properties of the formal languages that these automata generate. We will argue against the equation between effective computation and functionbased computation, and introduce examples of computable procedures which are nevertheless impossible to capture using traditional functionbased theories. The connection with cognition will be made in the light of dynamical frustrations: the irreconciliable tension between mutually incompatible tendencies that hold for a given dynamical system. We will provide arguments in favour of analyzing natural language as emerging from a tension between different systems (essentially, semantics and morphophonology) which impose orthogonal requirements over admissible outputs. The concept of level of organization or scale comes to the foreground here; and apparent contradictions and incommensurabilities between concepts and theories are revisited in a new light: that of dynamical nonlinear systems which are fundamentally frustrated. We will also characterize the computational system that emerges from such an architecture: the goal is to get a syntactic component which assigns the simplest possible structural description to substrings, in terms of its computational complexity. A system which can oscillate back and forth in the hierarchy of formal languages in assigning structural representations to local domains will be referred to as a computationally mixed system. Part III is where the really fun stuff starts. Field theory is introduced, and its applicability to neurocognitive phenomena is made explicit, with all due scale considerations. Physical and mathematical concepts are permanently interacting as we analyze phrase structure in terms of pseudofractals (in Mandelbrot’s sense) and define syntax as a (possibly unary) set of topological operations over completely Hausdorff (CH) ultrametric spaces. These operations, which makes field perturbations interfere, transform that initial completely Hausdorff ultrametric space into a metric, Hausdorff space with a weaker separation axiom. Syntax, in this proposal, is not ‘generative’ in any traditional sense –except the ‘fully explicit theory’ one: rather, it partitions (technically, ‘parametrizes’) a topological space. Syntactic dependencies are defined as interferences between perturbations over a field, which reduce the total entropy of the system per cycles, at the cost of introducing further dimensions where attractors corresponding to interpretations for a phrase marker can be found. Part IV is a sample of what we can gain by further pursuing the physics of language approach, both in terms of empirical adequacy and theoretical elegance, not to mention the unlimited possibilities of interdisciplinary collaboration. In this section we set our focus on island phenomena as defined by Ross (1967), critically revisiting the most relevant literature on this topic, and establishing a typology of constructions that are strong islands, which cannot be violated. These constructions are particularly interesting because they limit the phase space of what is expressible via natural language, and thus reveal crucial aspects of its underlying dynamics. We will argue that a dynamically frustrated system which is characterized by displaying mixed computational dependencies can provide straightforward characterizations of cyclicity in terms of changes in dependencies in local domains.
