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ELSEVI ER
Cogni ti on 61 (1996) 127-159
COGNI TI ON
Selectional constraints: an information-theoretic model
and its computational realization
Ph i l i p Re s n i k *
Sun Microsystems Laboratories, 2 Elizabeth Drive, Chelmsford, MA 01824-4195, USA
Abstract
A new, i nfor mati on-theor eti c model of selecti onal constr ai nts i s pr oposed: The str ategy
adopted her e i s a mi ni mali st one: how far can one get maki ng as few assumpti ons as
possi ble? In keepi ng wi th that str ategy, the pr oposed model consi sts of only two
components: fi rst, a fai r ly gener i c taxonomi c r epr esentati on of concepts, and, second, a
pr obabi li sti c for mali zati on of selecti onal constr ai nts defi ned i n ter ms of that taxonomy,
computed on the basi s of si mple, obser vable fr equenci es of co-occur r ence between
pr edi cates and thei r ar guments. Unli ke tr adi ti onal selecti on r estr i cti ons, the i nfor mati on-
theor eti c appr oach avoi ds empi r i cal pr oblems associ ated wi th defi ni ti onal theor i es of wor d
meani ng, accommodates the obser vati on that semanti c anomaly often appear s to be a matter
of degr ee, and pr ovi des an account of how selecti onal constr ai nts can be lear ned. A
computati onal i mplementati on of the model " l ear ns" selecti onal constr ai nts fr om collec-
ti ons of natur ally occur r i ng text; the pr edi cti ons of the i mplemented model ar e evaluated
agai nst judgments eli ci ted fr om adult subjects, and used to explor e the way that ar guments
ar e syntacti cally r eali zed for a class of Engli sh ver bs. The paper concludes wi th a di scussi on
of the r ole of selecti onal constr ai nts i n the acqui si ti on of ver b meani ng.
1. Introducti on
Sel ect i onal const r ai nt s ar e l i mi t at i ons on t he appl i cabi l i t y of nat ur al l anguage
pr edi cat es t o ar gument s. For exampl e, t he f ol l owi ng exchange wi t h a 5- year - ol d
chi l d makes i t cl ear t hat , wher e a gr een cow i s unl i kel y but nonet hel ess
concei vabl e, a gr een i dea i s not onl y unl i kel y but downr i ght unt hi nkabl e ( Li l a
Gl ei t man, per s onal communi cat i on; see Landau and Gl ei t man, 1985).
( 1) (a) Exper i ment er : Coul d a cow be gr een?
(b) Subj ect : I t hi nk t he y' r e usual l y br own or whi t e.
* Correspondi ng author: E-mai l: phi li p.resni k@east.sun.com; fax: (508) 250-5067.
0010-0277/96/$15.00 1996 Elsevi er Sci ence B.V. All ri ghts reserved
PII S001 0- 0277( 96) 00722- 6
128 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
(2) (a) , Exper i menter : Could an i dea be gr een?
(b) Subject: No, si lly! They' r e only i n your head.
The di scussi on of selecti onal constr ai nts has a long hi stor y, but much of that
di scussi on concer ns the tr uth-theor eti c status of sentences i n whi ch a selecti onal
constr ai nt i s vi olated, li ke The idea is not green (Hor n, 1989). The questi on of
how selecti onal constr ai nts mi ght be acqui r ed has r ecei ved less attenti on, as has
the questi on of why many pr edi cates seem mor e flexi ble about thei r ar guments
than the exampl es i n the semanti cs li ter atur e would suggest.
What follows i s an attempt to answer these questi ons by pr esenti ng a new
for mal model of selecti onal constr ai nts and a computati onal r eali zati on of that
model. The str ategy adopted her e i s a mi ni mali st one: how far can one get maki ng
as few assumpti ons as possi ble? In keepi ng wi th that str ategy, the pr oposed model
consi sts of only two components: fi rst, a fai r ly gener i c t axonomi c r epr esentati on of
concepts, and, second, a pr obabi li sti c for mali zati on of selecti onal constr ai nts
defi ned i n ter ms of that t axonomy, comput ed on the basi s of si mple, obser vable
fr equenci es of co-occur r ence between pr edi cates and thei r ar guments. Mi ni mi zi ng
the r epr esentati onal assumpti ons si mpli fi es the pr obl em of accounti ng for how
selecti onal constr ai nts ar e lear ned. For mali zi ng the model i n i nfor mati on-theor eti c
ter ms leads to an i llumi nati ng i nter pr etati on of selecti onal constr ai nts and thei r
flexi bi li ty: how strongly a pr edi cate selects for an ar gument i s i denti fi ed wi th the
quanti ty of information i t car r i es about that ar gument, wher e i nfor mati on i s
i nter pr eted i n a str i ct mathemati cal sense. The model i s assessed by means of a
computati onal i mplementati on, compar i ng i ts pr edi cti ons agai nst j udgment s
elected fr om adult subjects and agai nst natur ally occur r i ng data.
The most fami li ar appr oach to char acter i zi ng selecti onal constr ai nts i s the noti on
of selecti on r estr i cti ons, i ntr oduced as par t of Katz and Fodor ' s (Kat z and Fodor ,
1964) br oader semanti c theor y based on the noti on of defi ni ng featur es. They
outli ned a decomposi ti onal theor y of wor d meani ng i n whi ch lexi cal entr i es
speci fi ed the featur es appli cable to a par ti cular lexi cal i tem - the classi c exampl e
i s the noun bachelor, whi ch, among other thi ngs, can mean an unmar r i ed man
(semanti c featur es HUMAN and MALE) o r a young fur seal wi thout a mate (semanti c
featur es ANIMAL and MALE). For wor ds that denote pr edi cates, Katz and Fodor
pr oposed that the ar guments i n thei r lexi cal entr i es be annotated wi th r estr i cti ons
i denti fyi ng the necessar y and suffi ci ent condi ti ons that a semanti cally acceptable
ar gument must meet. Such condi ti ons wer e r epr esented as Boolean functi ons of
semanti c featur es; for exampl e, (3) gi ves the selecti on r estr i cti ons on the
ar guments for the ver b hit when used as i n The man hits the ground with a rock.
(3) SUBJECT
OBJECT
INSTRUMENTAL
HUMAN o r HIGHER ANIMAL
PHYSICAL OBJECT
PHYSICAL OBJECT
As an attempt to explai n mental objects, Katz and Fodor ' s theor y was met wi th
cr i ti ci sm of i ts detai ls as well as of the defi ni ti onal enter pr i se as a whole (e.g.,
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 129
Mc Ca wl e y, 1968; Mc Ca wl e y, 1971; Fodor et al. , 1980; Ar ms t r ong et al. , 1983;
al so see Kat z, 1972 for l at er r ef i nement s of t he t heor y and Fodor , 1977, for cr i t i cal
di scussi on) . I dent i f yi ng r est r i ct i ons t hat ar e bot h necessar y and suffi ci ent , and
choos i ng t he pr i mi t i ves t hemsel ves, i s vi ewed by many t o be an i nsur mount abl e
pr obl em: Ar ms t r ong et al. (1983, p. 268) go so f ar as to comment , " Ge ne r a l l y
speaki ng, i t i s wi del y agr eed t oday i n phi l os ophy, l i ngui st i cs, and ps ychol ogy, t hat
t he def i ni t i onal pr ogr am for e ve r yda y l exi cal cat egor i es has been def eat ed - at
l east i n i ts pr i st i ne f or m. " ~ Thos e cr i t i ci sms not wi t hst andi ng, Kat z and Fo d o r ' s
t heor y - a smal l number of pr i mi t i ve semant i c feat ur es, c ombi ne d i nt o Bool ean
expr es s i ons - of f er s a uni f or m expl anat i on for a r ange of semant i c phenomena. In
a sent ence l i ke The bachel or hi t t he basebal l , for exampl e, onl y a human sense of
bachel or i s nat ur al , si nce t he " y o u n g fur s eal " sense f ai l s t he t est on t he subj ect of
hit. Semant i c anomal i es ar i se vi a t he same mechani s m when no sense of a wor d i n
an ar gument pos i t i on can pass t he Bool ean t est , as i n Si nceri t y hi t t he basebal l . It
i s per haps f or t hat r eason t hat Bool ean sel ect i on r est r i ct i ons r emai n a domi nant
t heor y of const r ai nt s on p r e d i c a t e - a r g u me n t combi nat i on (e.g., see Al l en, 1995)
des pi t e wi del y a c knowl e dge d empi r i cal l i mi t at i ons.
An al t er nat i ve to t he Ka t z - F o d o r account i s t he vi ew t hat sel ect i onal const r ai nt s
ar e not a phe nome non of l exi cal s emant i cs per se, but j us t a r ef l ect i on of t he mor e
gener al i nf er ent i al syst em under l yi ng l anguage under st andi ng. Johns on- Lai r d
( 1983) pr esent s one cl ear st at ement of t hi s posi t i on, ar gui ng t hat what appear t o be
semant i c sel ect i onal const r ai nt s ar e act ual l y i nf er ences t hat have been conven-
t i onal i zed becaus e of t hei r f r equency and pr edi ct abi l i t y~ However , wher e t r adi -
t i onal sel ect i on r est r i ct i ons appear to be over l y r est r i ct i ve, as s umi ng a r epr esent a-
t i onal vocabul ar y t oo i mpover i s hed and r i gi d to capt ur e t he appar ent scope and
f l exi bi l i t y of r eal - wor l d ment al cat egor i es, t r eat i ng sel ect i onal const r ai nt s as par t of
a br oader i nf er ent i al s ys t em seems equal l y pr obl emat i c f or t he oppos i t e r eason: a
gener al t heor y of i nf er ence must as s ume t he ent i r e r epr esent at i onal ar senal t hat
peopl e use i n under s t andi ng l anguage, r angi ng f r om soci al mor es t o nai ve physi cs.
The pr i nci pl e of Oc c a m' s Razor suggest s t hat bef or e cons i gni ng sel ect i onal
const r ai nt s to t he vast , poor l y under s t ood t er r i t or y of gener al r easoni ng, we fi r st
l ook f or a mor e r est r i ct ed model .
The appr oach t o sel ect i onal const r ai nt s t aken her e st ar t s wi t h f ewer as s umpt i ons
t han t he def i ni t i onal vi ew, r es ol vi ng many of i t s empi r i cal di f f i cul t i es, and at t he
same t i me i s expr es s ed i n a f or mal l y pr eci se way so as t o avoi d t he t heor et i cal
' See Wi lks et al. (1996) for an up-to-date di scussi on and an argument for the conti nued use of
semanti c pri mi ti ves i n a less pri sti ne fashi on.
z Vi ews consi stent wi th Johnson-Lai rd's posi ti on are found elsewhere, though someti mes less
expli ci tly. For example, i n psycholi ngui sti c wor k on the effects of argument plausi bi li ty i n on-li ne
processi ng, one can fi nd tradi ti onally semanti c di sti ncti ons, parti cularly the di sti ncti on between
ani mates and i nani mates, grouped wi th pragmati c factors (Holmes et al., 1989; Tabossi et al., 1994;
MacDonald, 1993). Si mi larly, computati onal work on language understandi ng as a vari ety of theorem
provi ng (e.g., Hobbs et al., 1993; Alshawi and Carter, 1992) often makes no formal di sti ncti on between
axi oms representi ng selecti on restri cti ons and axi oms encodi ng general factual knowledge.
130 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
open-endedness of the i nfer enti al appr oach. The model was desi gned wi th the
followi ng cr i ter i a i n mi nd:
1. It should be possi ble but not necessar y to assume that wor d meani ngs ar e
decomposabl e i nto defi ni ti onal featur es (Fodor et al., 1980; Johnson-Lai r d,
1983; Ar mst r ong et al., 1983).
2. The model should allow for selecti onal constr ai nts that make r efer ence not j ust
to a small, pr i vi leged semanti c vocabular y, but to " any pi ece of semanti c
i nfor mati on whi ch may fi gur e i n the semanti c r epr esentati on of an i t em" ; for
example, the constr ai nts associ ated wi th the ver bs devein (r estr i cted to shr i mp
or pr awns) and diagonalize (r estr i cted to matr i ces) (McCawl ey, 1968).
3. The model should accommodat e the obser vati on that i n many cases semanti c
anomal y - that i s, the vi olati on of selecti onal constr ai nts - appear s to be a
matter of degr ee r ather than an all-or -nothi ng phenomenon (Dr ange, 1966;
Fodor , 1977).
An addi ti onal goal of the model i s an account of how selecti onal constr ai nts can
be lear ned, subject to the cr i ter i a j ust outli ned. The i ssue of lear ni ng can be
i nter pr eted i n two ways. The fi r st concer ns the constr ucti on of a model of adult
selecti onal constr ai nts that can be i mpl ement ed computati onally i n or der to
accommodat e studi es usi ng a r eali sti c r ange of data r ather than a car efully chosen
set of " t oy" cases. I f the basi s of the i mpl ement ed model i s not j ust a small
semanti c vocabular y, but conceptual i nfor mati on on a lar ger scale, and especi ally
i f the selecti onal constr ai nts ar e gr aded r ather than categor i cal, then i ntr ospecti ve
methods for constr ucti ng i t ar e sur ely i mpr acti cal. The second sense of lear ni ng i s
that of language acqui si ti on: how mi ght selecti onal constr ai nts emer ge i n a chi ld
acqui r i ng language? Her e even a pr acti cal met hodol ogy for model constr ucti on i s
not enough: the account must also r equi r e no mor e pr i or knowl edge than that
avai lable to a language lear ner , and i t must not assume the exi stence of i nput data
to whi ch the lear ner would not have access. Thi s i s tr ue even i f the model i s
thought of only as a star ti ng poi nt for fur ther i nvesti gati on, as i s the case her e,
r ather than as a detai led descr i pti on of actual mental pr ocesses i n chi ldr en.
Because obser ved data i s an i ntegr al par t of the model, these two aspects of
lear ni ng - constr ucti ng a model of matur e mental r epr esentati ons, and si mulati ng
one component of the chi l d' s ver b acqui si ti on pr ocess - have r equi r ements that ar e
for the most par t consi stent wi th each other . Wher e they di ffer most i s i n thei r
assumpti ons about the lexi cal r epr esentati on of pr edi cates at the ti me !ear ni ng
takes place. It seems obvi ous that, for adults, selecti onal constr ai nts should be
tr eated as par t of r i ch meani ng r epr esentati ons associ ated wi th di sti nct ver b senses.
For chi ldr en, however , i t i s not clear whi ch aspects of a ver b' s lexi cal r epr esenta-
ti on ar e alr eady i n place at the ti me i ts selecti onal constr ai nts ar e lear ned - r ecent
pr oposals by Gr open (1993), Glei tman and Gi llette (1995), and Gr i mshaw (1994),
to be di scussed i n detai l later , suggest that knowl edge of selecti onal constr ai nts
may i n fact be i nstr umental i n acqui r i ng those lexi cal r epr esentati ons. In an
attempt to addr ess the lear ni ng i ssue, ther efor e, the str ategy adopted her e has been
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 131
tO steer a mi ddle cour se: model adults, but mi ni mi ze assumpti ons about lexi cal
r epr esentati on.
S ELECTI ONAL CONSTRAI NTS
2. Mo d e l
2.1. Informal description
Intui ti vely, selecti onal constr ai nts speci fy what i s or i s not an appr opr i ate
ar gument for a par ti cular pr edi cate. The i dea behi nd the model i s a si mple one. In
effect, one asks: compar ed to pr edi cates i n gener al, how much does thi s par ti cular
pr edi cate appear to i nfluence the conceptual class of the wor ds that appear as i ts
ar gument, as measur ed by obser ved co-occur r ence fr equenci es? I f the pr edi cate
i mposes a str ong selecti onal constr ai nt, then the obser ved fr equenci es of some
conceptual classes of ar gument wi ll be noti ceably gr eater or less for thi s pr edi cate
than they would be on aver age. If the pr edi cate selects only weakly, the fr equency
di str i buti on of i ts ar guments wi ll di ffer less fr om what would be expected on
aver age.
The r emai nder of thi s secti on develops thi s i dea i n gr eater detai l. In par ti cular ,
what consti tutes a conceptual class of ar guments? What i s meant by predicate, and
how does i t r elate to theor i es of lexi cal r epr esentati on? How can one quanti fy the
i nfluence of a pr edi cate on the fr equency di str i buti on of i ts ar guments? And
fi nally, how does lear ni ng take place i n such a model ?
2.2. Representation of arguments and predicates
The fi r st component of the model i s a conceptual t axonomy, or semanti c
networ k (Sowa, 1991; Lehmann, 1992), i n whi ch classes ar e r elated by subsump-
ti on. For example, such a networ k mi ght i denti fy BEVERAGE as a subclass of LIQUID
and as a super class of WINE. In contr ast to defi ni ti onal semanti c featur es, thi s
t axonomy i s i ntended to captur e conceptual i nfor mati on, and ther efor e i t may also
i nclude classes that ar e speci fi c to a par ti cular language or cultur e.
In or der to keep r epr esentati onal assumpti ons to a mi ni mum, t axonomi c classes
wi ll be thought of as collecti ons of unanalyzed wor d meani ngs. That i s, one can
thi nk of BEVERAGE not only as a wor d meani ng i tself, but also as a label i denti fyi ng
a set that contai ns WATER, WINE, COFFEE, etc., wher e a wor d i n capi tal letter s denotes
some unspeci fi ed mental r epr esentati on. The class LIQUID wi ll then be a pr oper
super set, contai ni ng not only the wor d-concept BEVERAGE and all member s of the
set i denti fi ed by the label BEVERAGE, but also such non-bever ages as OIL and
ANTIFREEZE. A wor d meani ng may belong to any number of conceptual classes -
for example, COOKIE mi ght be categor i zed both wi th other foods (BREAD, etc.) and
wi th ot her small objects (CRAYON, etc.).
Thi s mi ni mal for mali zati on of t axonomi c classes i s consi stent wi th mor e
132 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159
el abor at ed l exi cal r epr esent at i ons of ar gument s, such as t hose based on " qual i a
st r uct ur e" ( Pust ej ovsky, 1995). For exampl e, Pust ej ovsky et al. ( 1993) gi ve the
f ol l owi ng r epr esent at i ons f or book and t ape (i n the sense of a comput er - r eadabl e
magnet i c tape):
r book(x,y) q
l CONST = i nformati on(y) /
(4) l FORMAL=physobj(x) /
/ TELIC=read(T, w, y) /
1AGENT1VE = wri te(T, z, y)__]
I tape(x, y) 1 CONST = information(y)
FORMAL = physi obj(x) and 2-dimensional(x)
TELIC = contain(S,x,y)
AGENTIVE = wri te(T, z, y)
Accor di ng t o the si mpl er t axonomi c s cheme as s umed her e, cl ass member s hi p
woul d be used t o account f or mos t of the s ame i nf or mat i on. For exampl e, the
cl asses i l l ust r at ed i n (5) mi ght r epr esent the sets of obj ect s t hat ar e (a) cr eat ed by
wr i t i ng i nf or mat i on, (b) physi cal obj ect s, and (c) cont ai ner s of s ome ki nd.
(5) (a) {BOOK, DIARY, DISKETI~ E, NOVEL, TAPE, ...)
(b) {ANCHOVY, BICYCLE, BOOK, DISKETTE, NOVEL, RECORD, TAPE . . . . )
(C) {BOWL, BOX, CUP, DISKETTE, TAPE . . . . }
Cr uci al l y, thi s t axonomi c vi ew of concept s per mi t s but does not r equi r e
semant i c decomposi t i on: the concept BOOK i s i mpl i ci t l y i denti fi ed as a physi cal
obj ect , i nt ended t o be r ead, and so for t h, by vi r t ue of i ts j uxt aposi t i on wi t h ot her
concept s, r at her t han by the choi ce of semant i c component s i n i ts meani ng
r epr esent at i on. Mi l l er (1990) di st i ngui shes t hese t wo f or ms of r epr esent at i on usi ng
the t er ms cons t r uct i ve and di f f erent i al - a const r uct i ve l exi cal t heor y must suppor t
accur at e r econst r uct i on of concept s by a per son or machi ne not al r eady i n
possessi on of t hose concept s, wher eas i n a di ffer ent i al t heor y, i t i s as s umed t hat
the goal i s to di ffer ent i at e among concept s t hat ar e al r eady known. For mal i zi ng
ar gument s accor di ng t o a di ffer ent i al st yl e of r epr esent at i on leads t o a model
consi st ent wi t h mor e const r uct i ve t heor i es wi t hout r el yi ng on the detai ls of how
ar gument s ar e r epr esent ed i n the ment al l exi con. 3
In or der t o pl ausi bl y suppor t an account of how sel ect i onal const r ai nt s ar e
acqui r ed, i t shoul d be evi dent t hat thi s fi r st, t axonomi c component of the model
r equi r es t wo r el at i vel y weak assumpt i ons wi t h r egar d to the ment al r epr esent at i on
of ar gument s. The fi r st i s t hat l ear ner s al r eady have a gr asp of the noun l exi con at
the t i me sel ect i onal const r ai nt s ar e bei ng lear ned. Thi s i s suggest ed by the
obser vat i on t hat nouns pr ecede ver bs i n acqui si t i on (Nel son, 1973; Gent ner , 1982),
and i t i s al so suppor t ed by evi dence t hat l ear ni ng t o map noun f or ms to noun
concept s i s a r el at i vel y eas y t ask ( Gl ei t man and Gi l l et t e, 1995). The second
assumpt i on i s t hat the l ear ner has al r eady or gani zed concept s i nto di scr et e cl asses.
3 Another advantage of the di fferenti al approach i s methodologi cal rather than theoreti cal: i n contrast
to computati onal lexi cons bui lt accordi ng to constructi ve theori es, whi ch cover at best a small subset of
the Engli sh language, the di fferenti al framework has been used to construct a very br oad coverage
on-li ne lexi con for Engli sh (Mi ller, 1990), maki ng i t possi ble to adopt a research methodology
i nvolvi ng computati onal si mulati on on a large scale.
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1990) 127-1.59 133
Al t hough ther e i s less cl ear evi dence for thi s, chi l dr en at least as young as 3 year s
ol d can cl assi fy pi ctur es of obj ect s i n the same manner as adults f or basi c level
cat egor i es such as TABLE and FISH, and sor ti ng obj ect s i nto super or di nat e cat egor i es
such as FURNITURE and ANIMAL r eaches adult compet ence by about age 8 ( Rosch et
al., 1976) 4
For pr edi cates, as was the case for ar gument s, the for mal model makes as few
r epr esent at i onal assumpt i ons as possi ble. The li ter atur e on lexi cal r epr esent at i ons
f or pr edi cates has had li ttle to say about selecti onal constr ai nts or how t hey r elate
t o the concept ual cont ent of thei r ar gument s; r ather , i ts focus tends t o be on those
aspects of lexi cal r epr esent at i on that det er mi ne how ar gument s ar e r eali zed
synt act i cal l y (e.g., Dowt y, 1991; Levi n, 1993; Pi nker , 1989). To adopt the
t er mi nol ogy of Gr i mshaw (1993, 1994), most wor k on the r epr esent at i on of
pr edi cates concer ns semant i c st ruct ure, wher eas selecti onal constr ai nts ar e a
mat t er of semant i c cont ent . The model, ther efor e, tr eats pr edi cates as ver y abstr act
for mal objects, maki ng no r efer ence to thei r i nter nal str uctur e.
The i ssue her e i s not whet her such i nter nal str uctur e exi sts, whi ch i t cer t ai nl y
does, but whet her the detai ls of that str uctur e need to be expli ci tly r epr esent ed i n
the for mal model of selecti onal constr ai nts i n or der to make r easonabl e pr edi c-
ti ons. A lexi cal t heor y such as Jackendof f ' s (Jackendoff, 1983) si tuates selecti onal
constr ai nts as i nfor mat i on appear i ng i n the cont ext of a r i ch r epr esent at i on of the
pr edi cat e' s meani ng, such as the annot at i on LIQUID appear i ng as a const r ai nt on one
ar gument of the ver b dri nk.
(6)
[ Idr i nk j
( N~ ) LI I D
The model her e i s consi st ent wi th such theor i es: i t pl ays the same r ole as the
annot at i on LIQUID does i n (6). Cr uci al l y, however , the model makes no assump-
ti ons about the natur e of the lexi cal r epr esent at i on wi thi n whi ch the const r ai nt i s
si tuated, and by hypot hesi s i t can make r easonabl e pr edi ct i ons wi t hout doi ng so.
As a fi nal r epr esent at i onal i ssue, ther e i s the quest i on of whet her selecti onal
constr ai nts shoul d be t hought of as associ at ed wi t h semant i c pr edi cates, as i s
t ypi cal l y assumed, or wi th some mor e abstr act r epr esent at i on that takes multi ple
senses i nto account . For pur poses of model i ng adult lexi cal knowl edge, selecti onal
const r ai nt s ar e obvi ousl y associ at ed wi th wor d senses - f or exampl e, Gi el gud
pl ayed Haml et i s a fi ne sent ence on t he theatr i cal r eadi ng of pl ay, but a selecti onal
4 It i s worth noti ng that a taxonomy of thi s ki nd can be vi ewed as i mpli ci tly encodi ng i nferenti al
relati onshi ps: one can defi ne class membershi p i n terms of shared entai lments among the members of
the class, and subsumpti on by i nheri tance of those entai lments. In that respect, the approach taken here
adopts the i nferenti al vi ew of selecti onal constrai nts, albei t i n a much more constrai ned fashi on. More
di scussi on on thi s poi nt can be found elsewhere (Resni k, 1993).
134 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
vi ol at i on i n the " pl ay on a musi cal i nst r ument " sense of the ver b. However , once
the el ement of l ear ni ng i s i nt r oduced, the si tuati on becomes less clear , si nce
lear ner s obser ve not wor d senses but wor d for ms. One woul d li ke to appeal to the
obser vat i on that the ar gument s of a ver b oft en r esol ve whi ch sense of the ver b i s
bei ng used, but thi s woul d consti tute a ci r cul ar ar gument : i n or der t o lear n
selecti onal constr ai nts, l ook at the co- occur r ence of ar gument s wi th senses of the
ver b; i n or der to deci de whi ch sense of a ver b i s cor r ect for a gi ven obser ved
i nstance, choose the sense for whi ch the ar gument best mat ches the selecti onal
constr ai nts. And even thi s pr esupposes that the lear ner has al r eady di scover ed
what the possi bl e senses ar e for a gi ven ver b; however , that lear ni ng pr ocess may
i tself i nvol ve knowl edge of selecti onal constr ai nts, a possi bi l i t y that wi ll be taken
up i n the Gener al Di scussi on.
For these r easons, the model to be descr i bed wi ll be expr essed not i n ter ms of
semant i c pr edi cates (i .e., di sti nct wor d senses) but mor e abst r act l y by conflati ng
multi ple wor d senses i nto a si ngle r epr esentati on. For exampl e, the model wi ll
tr eat PLAY as i f i ts lexi cal r epr esent at i on conflates the senses of pl ayi ng a musi cal
i nstr ument, pl ayi ng a theatr i cal r ole, pl ayi ng a game, and so for th, wi th the r esult
bei ng a selecti onal const r ai nt t hat i s mul t i modal . It must be emphasi zed that
not hi ng prevents the model f r om expr essi ng di sti nct selecti onal constr ai nts f or
di sti nct wor d senses - one need onl y thi nk of those senses as const i t ut i ng di sti nct
pr edi cates i n the for mal model , i denti fi able as PLAV~ , PLAY 2, etc. - but i n or der to
deal sensi bly wi th i ssues of lear ni ng i t i s i mpossi bl e t o assume that the lear ner has
al r eady succeeded i n acqui r i ng t hose di sti ncti ons.
2.3. Formalization of selectional constraints
Gi ven a r epr esent at i on of ar gument concept s and pr edi cates as j ust di scussed,
the second component of the model char act er i zes selecti onal constr ai nts i n ter ms
of a pr obabi li sti c r elati onshi p bet ween pr edi cat es and concept ual cat egor i es or
classes. Intui ti vely, the i dea i s thi s: r at her t han obeyi ng r estr i cti ons or har d
const r ai nt s on appli cabi li ty, a pr edi cat e pr efer ent i al l y associ at es wi th cer tai n
classes of ar gument s. To state thi s anot her way, pr efer ences consti tute the effect
that the pr edi cat e has on what appear s i n an ar gument posi ti on. For exampl e, the
adj ect i ve blue does not restrict i tself t o ar gument s havi ng a t angi bl e sur face - the
sky i s blue, and so i s ocean wat er even bel ow the sur face. Rather , the effect of the
pr edi cat e i s that i ts ar gument s t end t o be physi cal enti ti es and t o have sur faces.
Si mi lar ly, the ver b admire has an effect on what appear s as i ts subject: these t end
to be physi cal , ani mate, human, capabl e of the hi gher psychol ogi cal funct i ons, and
so for th, t hough no Bool ean combi nat i on of these pr oper ti es need be bot h
necessar y and suffi ci ent.
For mal l y, let P be a r andom var i abl e r angi ng over the set {p~ . . . . . Pro} of
pr edi cates under consi der at i on. Let C be a r andom var i abl e r angi ng over the set
{c~ . . . . . cn} of classes i n the t axonomy descr i bed above. Fi nal l y, let r denot e the
ar gument posi t i on of i nter est. Gi ven thi s pr obabi li sti c fr amewor k, the i ntui ti ve
not i on of pr efer ence can now be phr ased mor e pr eci sel y as the f ol l owi ng quest i on:
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-1.59 135
] Pri or, Pr(C}
Posteri or, Pr(C I grow)
LEGUME ANI MAL CONTAI NER
Fi g. 1. Exampl e of a pr i or di str i buti on and a poster i or di str i buti on.
what effect does the choi ce of a par ti cular pr edi cate P =Pi have on the di str i buti on
of C i n ar gument posi ti on r ?
Fi g. 1 i llustr ates how thi s mi ght wor k for a par ti cular pr edi cate, the ver b grow,
wi th r espect to i ts di r ect object ar gument: s The li ght bar s r epr esent par t of what the
di str i buti on of ar gument classes mi ght be, r egar dless of the par ti cular pr edi cate.
Independent of the ver b, some classes are, a pr i or i , si mply mor e li kely to be
r efer r ed to i n di r ect object posi ti on, and some less li kely. For example, i n the
absence of any other i nfor mati on, ani mals mi ght be mor e li kely to be menti oned i n
di r ect object posi ti on than legumes. However , gi ven the par ti cular ver b grow, thi s
di str i buti on changes to the one shown by the dar k bars: some classes (e.g.,
ani mals) become much less li kely, and other s (e.g., legumes) become much mor e
li kely.
In the pr esent model, i t i s thi s r elati onshi p, the di ffer ence between the prior
di str i buti on, Pr (c), and the posterior di str i buti on, Pr(clpi ), that consti tutes selec-
ti onal pr efer ence. On thi s account, the featur es, pr oper ti es, or i nfer ences that
gover n selecti onal constr ai nts r emai n enti r ely hi dden: selecti onal r elati onshi ps ar e
char acter i zed enti r ely by the pr obabi li sti c r elati onshi p between a pr edi cate and the
classes of i ts ar guments.
A di ffer ence between two pr obabi li ty di str i buti ons can be expr essed i n pr eci se
ter ms usi ng an i nfor mati on-theor eti c measur e known as relative entropy (Kullback
and Lei bler , 1951; Cover and Thomas, 1991), whi ch i s defi ned as:
D(pllq) = ~ p ( x ) log p(x)
x q(x)'
Intui ti vely, i f pr obabi li ty di str i buti on p i s i nter pr eted as the " t r ut h" and di s-
tr i buti on q i s i nter pr eted as an appr oxi mati on of the tr ue di str i buti on, then the
r elati ve entr opy D(pllq) measur es the amount of extr a i nfor mati on one would need
to add to the appr oxi mati on i n or der to make i t fi t the tr uth per fectly.
As noted ear li er , the ar gument posi ti on r could j ust as well be stated wi th r espect to themati c r oles
(or other pr edi cat e- ar gument r elati onshi ps) r ather than sur face syntacti c r elati onshi ps such as subject
and object; the choi ce of r elati onshi p has no bear i ng on the for mal defi ni ti on of the model. For the sake
of r eadabi li ty, r i s suppr essed i n the fi gur e and all for mal defi ni ti ons. For exampl e, the fr equency wi th
whi ch a noun n occur s as the di r ect object of a ver b v wi ll be denoted fr eq(v, n) r ather than
freq, , , j(v, n). Al so note that the thr ee conceptual categor i es i n the fi gur e ar e j ust an i llustr ati ve sample:
the model i nvol ves usi ng the pr i or and poster i or pr obabi li ti es of all the categor i es i n the ar gument
t axonomy.
136 P. Res ni k / Cogni t i on 61 ( 1996) 1 2 7 - 1 5 9
The pr i or di st r i but i on of cl asses, Pr (c), r epr esent s an uni nf or med appr oxi mat i on
of what the di st r i but i on of ar gument s l ooks li ke, one t hat does not t ake the
pr edi cat e i nt o account at all. The post er i or , Pr (cl pi ), i s the tr ue di st r i but i on of
ar gument cl asses wi t h r espect t o a par t i cul ar pr edi cat e Pi . So, t r eat i ng the f or mer as
q and the l at t er as p, the di f f er ence bet ween the t wo di st r i but i ons i s quant i fi ed as:
S( pi ) = D(Pr(clp~)llPr(c))
Pr(cl pi )
=~ ]pr(clp~ ), log Pr(c)
I wi ll call thi s quant i t y s el ect i onal p r e f e r e n c e st rengt h. 6
Not i ce that, i n thi s model , the sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h of a pr edi cat e i s
not j ust a number , but a number wi t h a pr eci sel y speci fi ed meani ng. Tr eat i ng
Pr (clp~ ) as tr uth and Pr (c) as appr oxi mat i on, the sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h of
pi t r ansl at es as the cost, i n i nf or mat i on, of not t aki ng the pr edi cat e i nt o account .
Ther ef or e, i n a ver y di r ect way, the sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h of a pr edi cat e
can be under st ood as the amount of i nf or mat i on i t car r i es about i ts ar gument .
As i l l ust r at ed i n Fi g. 1, sel ect i onal pr ef er ence i s char act er i zed her e as a
r el at i onshi p bet ween a pr edi cat e and the ent i r e concept ual space of ar gument s, and
sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h r educes t hat r el at i onshi p to a si ngl e quant i fi abl e
val ue. Nei t her of t hose succeeds i n answer i ng the mos t f r equent l y asked quest i on
concer ni ng sel ect i onal const r ai nt s, namel y t o what ext ent a par t i c ul ar concept ual
cl ass " f i t s " as the ar gument to a gi ven pr edi cat e. For t hat pur pose, i t i s useful t o
obs er ve t hat each t er m i n the s um that defi nes sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h
r epr esent s the cont r i but i on of a si ngl e concept ual cl ass. Cl asses t hat be c ome mor e
l i kel y gi ven the pr edi cat e cont r i but e a posi t i ve amount , and cl asses t hat be c ome
less l i kel y cont r i but e a negat i ve amount . Thi s suggest s t hat the sel ect i onal
r el at i onshi p bet ween a par t i c ul ar cl ass and a pr edi cat e can be expr essed i n t er ms
of the r el at i ve cont r i but i on t hat cl ass makes to the over al l sel ect i onal pr ef er ence
st r engt h.
To expr ess thi s f or mal l y, let the sel ect i onal associ at i on bet ween a pr edi cat e p~
and a cl ass c be defi ned as:
Pr(cl pi )
Pr(clpi ) log Pr (c)
A( pi , c) = S( Pi )
Unl i ke sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h, whi ch i s al ways gr eat er t han or equal to
zer o, the sel ect i onal associ at i on bet ween a pr edi cat e and a cl ass can al so have a
negat i ve val ue, i ndi cat i ng the ext ent t o whi ch t hat cl ass i s di s pr ef er r ed as an
ar gument . It i s sel ect i onal associ at i on t hat ser ves as the sour ce of pr edi ct i ons
r egar di ng accept abi l i t y and anomal y: the scal e f r om negat i ve to posi t i ve val ues of
sel ect i onal associ at i on i s i nt er pr et ed as the degr ee of accept abi l i t y. It i s i nher ent l y
quant i t at i ve i n i ts defi ni ti on, bei ng based on pr obabi l i t i es, whi ch r efl ect s the
6 For a di s c us s i on o f r el at ed me a s u r e s i n a di f f er ent set t i ng, see Smyt h a nd Go o d ma n ( 1992) .
P. Resnik I Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159 137
obser vati on that ther e i s somethi ng gr aded r ather than categor i cal about judgments
of semanti c anomaly (Dr ange, 1966).
3 . I m p l e m e n t a t i o n
In r eali zi ng the model of selecti onal constr ai nts as a computati onal i mplementa-
ti on, the noun database fr om Wor dNet (versi on 1.2; Mi ller, 1990) was used as the
computati onal r epr esentati on of adults' taxonomi c knowledge about the conceptual
categor i es of ar guments. Wor dNet was sui table for thi s task because of i ts
or gani zati on (di sambi guated wor d senses or gani zed vi a class subsumpti on), i ts
scale (di cti onar y-level cover age of Engli sh), and the pr i nci ples under lyi ng i ts
constr ucti on (speci fi cally, the di ffer enti al lexi cai theor y on whi ch i t i s based, and
i ts attempt to dr aw a r easonable li ne between lexi cal concepts and gener al
knowledge). 7
The pr obabi li ti es under lyi ng the i nfor mati on-theor eti c model wer e appr oxi mated
for the ver b-object r elati onshi p by collecti ng fr equenci es of co-occur r ence for
verbs and thei r objects fr om three di ffer ent sources, effecti vely yi eldi ng thr ee
di ffer ent si mulati ons of the model. 8 These sour ces i ncluded the followi ng:
1. The Br own cor pus of Amer i can Engli sh (Fr anci s and Ku6era, 1982), appear i ng
i n par sed for m wi thi n the Penn Tr eebank (Mar cus et al., 1993); di r ect objects
were extr acted automati cally accor di ng to syntacti c cri teri a.
2. Parental turns fr om tr anscr i bed speech i n the CHILDES collecti on of par ent -
chi ld i nter acti ons (MacWhi nney and Snow, 1985); di r ect objects wer e i denti fi ed
automati cally thr ough heur i sti c pr ocedur es?
3. Ver b-object nor ms collected fr om human subjects i n an unpubli shed study by
Anne Leder er at the Uni ver si ty of Pennsylvani a.
The joi nt pr obabi li ti es i n the model were esti mated fr om obser ved verbs and
objects as follows:
1 1
Pr(v, c) = ~ ~ Iclasses(n)l freq(v, n)
n~wordslc)
7 See Resni k (1993, Ch. 2) for a mor e detai led di scussi on.
In all i nstances, the head of a noun phr ase i n di rect object posi ti on was treated as i f i t wer e the
di rect object. As McCawley (1968) convi nci ngly ar gues, selecti onal constr ai nts concer n not the lexi cal
heads of ar gument consti tuents but the concepts denoted by the enti r e phr ase - for example, a toy
sol di er should be treated as a ki nd of TOY-- but such cases appear ed relati vely i nfrequently.
" All the parental data i n Engli sh then avai lable i n CHILDES wer e mer ged; these i ncluded data
gather ed by the followi ng researchers: Bates, Bernstei n, Bloom, Bohannon, Brai ne, Br own, Clark,
Evans, Gar vey, Gathercole, Gleason, Hall, Hi ggi nson, Howe, Kuczaj, MacWhi nney, Sachs, Snow,
Suppes, Vanhouten, and Warren. MacWhi nney and Snow (1985) di scuss detai ls of the CHILDES
collecti on.
138 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
where v is a verb; c i s a cl ass, that is, a node in the WordNet noun t axonomy;
words ( c) denot es the set o f nouns for whi c h any s ens e is s ubs umed by c; cl as s es ( n)
denot es the set o f WordNet c l as s e s t o whi c h noun n bel ongs ( i n any o f its senses) ;
freq(v, n) is the number o f t i mes n appeared as the obj ect o f v; and N i s the total
number o f i nst ances in the obs erved sampl e ( = E v, ,, freq(v' , n' ) ) . Thi s es t i mat i on
procedure can be interpreted as distributing the "credit" for an ambi guous noun
uni f orml y across the set o f meani ngs it mi ght be used to express, a neces s ary step
in the abs ence o f a comput at i onal l y f easi bl e way to di scri mi nat e a mo ng the word
s ens es o f argument s in advance ( Yar ows ky, 1992; Resni k, 1993).
4. Qua l i t a t i v e b e h a v i o r
Be f or e turning t o experi ment s usi ng the i mpl ement ed model , it i s i nteresti ng t o
briefly expl ore its qual i tati ve behavi or. To begi n wi th, Tabl e 1 s ho ws the set o f
verbs used in the normi ng study, s el ect ed becaus e they occurred frequentl y in a
c ol l e c t i on o f par e nt - c hi l d i nteracti ons ( Anne Lederer, personal c ommuni c at i on) .
Each verb appears t oget her wi th the s el ect i onal pref erence strength for its direct
object, as meas ured usi ng probabi l i ty est i mat es aut omat i cal l y l earned f rom the
three c ol l e c t i ons di s cus s ed above )
Table 1
Strength of selectional preference for direct objects
Verb Strength Verb Strength
Brown CHILDES Norms Brown CHILDES Norms
pour 4.80 2.30 2.57 explai n 2.39 4.41 2.20
dri nk 4.38 2.38 2.83 read 2.35 2.58 1.81
pack 4.12 3.71 1.75 watch 1.97 1.44 1.86
sing 3.58 3.15 2.63 do 1.84 2.2 I
steal 3.52 2.28 1.34 hear 1.70 1.67 1.71
eat 3.51 I. 15 2.47 call 1.52 0.95 2.39
hang 3.35 2.03 1.96 want 1.52 0.70 1.71
wear 3.13 2.02 2.30 show 1.39 1.83 1.42
open 2.93 2.41 1.88 br i ng 1.33 0.88 1.04
push 2.87 1.77 1.98 put 1.24 0.40 1.34
say 2.82 0.94 2.56 see 1.06 0.48 1.54
pull 2.77 1.55 2.22 fi nd 0.96 0.71 1.30
li ke 2.59 0.89 1.30 take 0.93 0.74 1.28
write 2.54 2.33 2.18 get 0.82 0.28 1.17
play 2.51 2.13 2.64 gi ve 0.79 1.18 1.81
hit 2.49 1.31 1.91 make 0.72 0.77 1.58
catch 2.47 1.67 1.92 have 0.43 1.23
"~ The verbs do and have were excluded from the CHILDES sampl e because in that col l ecti on there
was no way to automatically determine whether an observed instance represented use as a verb or use
as an auxiliary.
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 139
The behavi or i n Tabl e 1 suggests that r easonable selecti onal constr ai nts can i n
fact be acqui r ed fr om obser ved data wi th only li mi ted r epr esentati onal assump-
ti ons. At least quali tati vely, the model appear s to have captur ed coar se-gr ai ned
i ntui ti ons about str ength of pr efer ence - for example, my own i ntui ti ons suggest
that the top thi r d contai ns a pr eponder ance of ver bs that clear ly constr ai n thei r
objects str ongly (e.g., dri nk, eat, si ng), the bot t om thi r d contai ns a pr eponder ance
of ver bs that select qui te weakly (e.g., f i nd, takp, get ) , and the mi ddle thi r d
contai ns i nter medi ate cases (e.g., hit, wat ch, want ) . At the same ti me, the si mple
or der i ng dr aws attenti on to the shi ft fr om categor i cal noti ons of semanti c well-
for medness towar d a gr aded char acter i zati on of how pr edi cates and ar guments
r elate. For exampl e, i n pr i nci ple pr acti cally any physi cal object can appear as the
object of pus h, but the model has assi gned the ver b a str ong selecti onal constr ai nt,
r eflecti ng i ts sensi ti vi ty to an obser ved t endency for pus h to appear wi th one ki nd
of object r ather than another - i n the Br own cor pus data, thi ngs that ar e pushed ar e
most li kely to be buttons (27%), wi th car s (7%) and boats (6%) i n second and
thi r d place.
Fi g. 2 pr ovi des a quali tati ve i llustr ati on of the c ont e nt of selecti onal pr efer ence
for two of the ver bs, eat and f i nd, as comput ed usi ng the Br own cor pus as a
lear ni ng sample. The fi gur e shows the " selecti onal pr ofi l e" for the di r ect object
ar gument of each ver b. Wor dNet classes ar e li ned up along the x-axi s, and the
ver ti cal bar for each i ndi cates i ts selecti onal associ ati on as di r ect object of the
ver b. As one mi ght expect, the selecti onal pr ofi le for eat i llustr ates a selecti onal
patter n that i s gr eater i n over all magni tude than the pr ofi le for f i nd, a vi sual
i mpr essi on that i s confi r med by i ts hi gher value for selecti onal pr efer ence str ength.
Mor eover , i ts pr ofi le i s mor e speci fi c: the class wi th the hi ghest value descr i bes the
conceptual cat egor y of foods, and some other classes wi th par ti cular ly hi gh values
i nclude substances and meals. In contr ast, the selecti onal pr ofi le for f i n d shows a
far weaker and less speci fi c patter n of pr efer ence. Notably, however , thi s i s not
equi valent to sayi ng t hat f i n d places no constr ai nts at all on i ts di r ect object. Whi le
S e l e c f l o n t t l P r o f i l e : e a t
9~)
a.t~ i i
sso
..... i !
.... di
oeo ].oo 2on ~oo 4.00
Fi g. 2. Selecti onal profi les for eat and find.
S e l e e f l o n l l P r o f i l e : f i n d
Aoo u
75111
7.~ 1 I
::7
::2[
ooo L_ , . j
. ] oo ~ _ _
o.~
i
]oo 2 o o ~.oo 4 c o
140 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
no cl ear patter n i s evi dent among classes wi th posi ti ve values of selecti onal
associ ati on, the two Wor dNet classes most dispreferred as objects of find ar e those
descr i bi ng acti ons and states.
EXPERIMENTS
5. Comparison with plausibility judgments
Goi ng beyond a quali tati ve i mpr essi on of the model, a mor e systemati c
empi r i cal test ar i ses i n the context of r esear ch i nto on-li ne pr ocesses dur i ng
sentence compr ehensi on. A number of r esear cher s have explor ed the r ole that
ar gument plausi bi li ty plays i n pr ocesses such as local syntacti c di sambi guati on.
(7)
(a)
(b)
The speaker pr oposed by the gr oup would wor k per fectly for the
pr ogr am.
The soluti on pr oposed by the gr oup would wor k per fectly for the
pr ogr am.
Example (7) i llustr ates how ar gument plausi bi li ty can affect di sambi guati on
deci si ons. In (7a), ther e i s a tendency to i nter pr et speaker as the agent of propose,
leadi ng to di ffi culty when subjects r each the di sambi guati ng by phr ase; (7b) causes
no such pr oblem because solution i s i mplausi ble as the agent of propose
(Tr ueswell et al., 1994).
In gener al, the plausi bi li ty data for such exper i ments ar e obtai ned by pr etesti ng.
For example, Holmes et al. (1989) evaluate ar gument plausi bi li ty by aski ng
subjects to r ate sentences li ke (8) on a l-to-5 scale.
( 8 ) ( a )
(b)
The mechani c war ned the dr i ver .
The mechani c war ned the engi ne.
Although selecti onal constr ai nts ar e cer tai nly not the only factor i nvolved i n
assessi ng plausi bi li ty, they can be expected to play a r ole i n subjects' plausi bi li ty
judgments. Ther efor e one way to assess the per for mance of a computati onal model
li ke the one pr oposed her e i s to compar e i ts " j udgment s" of selecti onal fi t agai nst
the plausi bi li ty r ati ngs eli ci ted fr om human subjects.
EXPERIMENT 1
The fi rst exper i ment tested the model ' s abi li ty to di sti ngui sh plausi ble fr om
i mplausi ble di r ect objects of ver bs, usi ng data fr om the study by Holmes et al.
(1989). As par t of thei r study, Holmes et al. selected a set of 16 ver bs havi ng a
bi as for NP complements, and constr ucted for each ver b a pai r of sentences, one
i nvolvi ng a plausi ble object and the other an i mplausi ble object, wher e plausi bi li ty
was i ni ti ally judged accor di ng to the exper i menter s' i ntui ti ons. For example,
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 141
pl ausi bl e and i mpl ausi bl e obj ect s f or the ver b war n are gi ven above i n exampl e
(8). The i nt ui t i ve j udgment s wer e t hen conf i r med by havi ng a set of subj ect s r ate
the sent ences f or pl ausi bi l i t y on a scal e f r om 1 ( l ow pl ausi bi l i t y) t o 5 (hi gh
pl ausi bi l i t y). Hol mes et al. r epor t a mean r at i ng of 4.5 f or the sent ences cont ai ni ng
pl ausi bl e obj ect s, and a mean r at i ng of 2.2 f or i mpl ausi bl e obj ect s, a st at i st i cal l y
si gni fi cant di ffer ence.
The goal of Exper i ment 1 was si mpl y to ver i fy t hat the mode l ' s r at i ngs of
sel ect i onal fi t - as meas ur ed by sel ect i onal associ at i on - al so yi el ds a si gni fi cant
di f f er ence bet ween the t wo gr oups.
6. Ma t e r i a l s
Ve r b- obj e c t pai r i ngs wer e ext r act ed by hand f r om the 16 pai r s of sent ences i n
Hol mes et al. (1989, Appendi x 2). Ver bs and nouns wer e manual l y r educed t o t hei r
r oot f or ms, wher e necessar y.
7. Me t h o d
The Br own cor pus was used as a l ear ni ng sampl e, as descr i bed above. For each
pai r i ng of a ver b v and di r ect obj ect n, the sel ect i onal associ at i on A(v, c) was
cal cul at ed f or each Wor dNet cl ass c to whi ch n bel ongs. The gr eat est such val ue of
sel ect i onal associ at i on, denot ed A . . . . was assi gned as the mode l ' s r at i ng f or the
pai r i ng (v, n).
8. Re s ul t s a n d di s c us s i o n
Tabl e 2 shows the v e r b - o b j e c t pai r i ngs. Each pai r i ng i s shown wi t h i ts r at i ng
accor di ng t o the model (Assoc =Ar ea x X 100), t oget her wi t h a shor t descr i pt i on of
the cl ass t hat maxi mi zed the val ue of sel ect i onal associ at i on (Cl ass). For exampl e,
the v e r b - o b j e c t combi nat i on r ead ar t i cl e i s assi gned a r at i ng of 6.80, and the cl ass
r esponsi bl e f or t hat val ue i s (wr i t i ng), a Wor dNet cl ass compr i si ng " anyt hi ng
expr essed i n letter s; r eadi ng mat t er . ' ' ~ The mean r at i ngs f or pl ausi bl e and
i mpl ausi bl e obj ect s ar e r espect i vel y 2. 69 and 1.45, a st at i st i cal l y si gni fi cant
di f f er ence ( Ma n n - Wh i t n e y U= 7 7 . 5 , p < . 0 5 ) .
Hol mes et al. r epor t t hat subj ect s pr oduced a l ower aver age r at i ng f or the
i mpl ausi bl e t han the pl ausi bl e obj ect s i n 15 of the 16 cases; the model ar r i ves at
the cor r ect or der i ng i n I 1 of the 16 cases, t hough t wo of t hose ( t each and
unde r s t and) are of doubt ful r el i abi l i t y. The shor t comi ngs of the model ar i se f r om
sever al sour ces. One obvi ous pr obl em i s wor d sense ambi gui t y: unl i ke human
~ Phrases i n angle brackets consti tute bri ef descri pti ons of the content of WordNet classes, used
rather than numeri cal i denti fi ers for conveni ence of exposi ti on.
142 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
Table 2
Selecti onal rati ngs for plausi ble and i mplausi ble di rect objects
Verb Plausi ble Implausi ble
Object Assoc. Class Object As s o c . Class
see fri end 5 . 7 9 (enti ty) method -0. 01 (method)
read arti cle 6.80 (wri ti ng) fashi on 0.20 (acti vi ty)
fi nd label 1. 10 (abstracti on) fever 0.22 (psych. feature)
hear story 1. 89 (communi cati on) i ssue 1. 89 (communi cati on)
wri te letter 7.26 (wri ti ng) market 0.00 (commerce)
urge daughter 1.14 (li fe form) contrast 1.86 (act)
warn dri ver 4.73 (person) engi ne 3. 61 (enti ty)
judge contest 1. 30 (contest) cli mate 0.28 (state)
teach language 1. 87 (cogni ti on) di stance 1. 86 (psych. feature)
show sample 1. 44 (psych. feature) travel 0 . 41 (happeni ng)
expect vi si t 0.59 (act) mouth 5.93 (enti ty)
answer request 4.49 (speech act) tragedy 3 . 8 8 (communi cati on)
recogni ze author 0.50 (enti ty) pocket 0.50 (enti ty)
repeat comment 1. 23 (communi cati on) journal 1. 23 (communi cati on)
understand concept 1. 52 (cogni ti on) sessi on 1.51 (soci al relati on)
remember reply 1. 31 (statement) smoke 0.20 (arti cle of commerce)
s ubj ect s , t he c o mp u t e r pr ogr a m had acces s ne i t he r t o t he f ul l s e nt e nc e c ont e xt of
t he v e r b - o b j e c t pai r i ngs , nor t o mor e gener al b a c k g r o u n d knowl e dge , ei t her of
whi c h c oul d i ndi cat e t hat a n o u n was b e i n g us e d i n a par t i cul ar sense. As a r esul t ,
t he mos t hi ghl y r at ed cl ass i n s ome cas es r epr es ent s a t hor ough mi s c ons t r ua l of t he
a r gume nt . For e xa mpl e , a n s w e r t r a g e d y i s r at ed as hi ghl y as i t i s becaus e, gi ve n
t he ve r b a n s w e r , t he s ens e of t r a g e d y mos t s t r ongl y s el ect ed f or i s t hat of a
dr amat i c c ompos i t i on, whi c h Wor dNe t cl assi f i es as a f or m of wr i t t en c o mmu n i c a -
t i on a nd t her ef or e c o mmu n i c a t i o n , j2 Wh e n t he mode l i s pr es ent ed wi t h ma n u a l l y
d i s a mb i g u a t e d i t ems, us i ng t he f ul l s e nt e nc e as c ont e xt t o sel ect a Wor dNe t s ens e
for t he a r gume nt , a nd t he s el ect i onal as s oci at i on t he n r ecal cul at ed a c c or di ngl y, t he
di f f e r e nc e be t we e n t he me a n r at i ngs i s mu c h cl ear er ( me a ns of 2. 53 f or pl a us i bl e
i t ems vs. 0. 96 f or i mpl a us i bl e i t ems, Ma n n - Wh i t n e y U= 4 9 , p < . 0 0 2 5 ) a nd t he
pl a us i bl e i t e m i s a s s i gne d a hi gher scor e t ha n t he i mpl a us i bl e i t e m i n 13 of t he 16
cases.
I n addi t i on, s ome of t he c ount e r i nt ui t i ve i t ems ma y r eveal l i mi t a t i ons of
as s oci at i on me a s ur e i t sel f. For e xa mpl e , e n g i n e i s r at ed as a r at her pl a us i bl e obj ect
of w a r n , as wi l l be a ny ot her phys i c a l ent i t y, be c a us e (a) w a r n t ends to c o- oc c ur
wi t h peopl e, whi c h ar e phys i c a l ent i t i es, (b) w a r n does not t e nd t o c o- oc c ur wi t h
~ 2 Interesti ngly, the selecti onal constrai nts alone do perform a li mi ted form of sense di sambi guati on:
article i s taken to denote a pi ece of wri tten text (rather than a word li ke the or an, or a man-made
object), st ory i s taken to denote a report or narrati ve (rather than a floor of a bui ldi ng), dri ver i s
i nterpreted as a person rather than as a ki nd of golf club, and so forth. Thi s i s a stati sti cal reali zati on of
the same phenomenon that Katz and Fodor (1964) captured by havi ng Boolean selecti on restri cti ons
rule out i nappropri ate combi nati ons of senses, though, notably, i n thi s experi ment the operati ve
constrai nts wer e learned automati cally from naturally occurri ng text.
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159 143
di r ect obj ect s t hat ar e not physi cal enti ti es, and t her ef or e (c) the post er i or
pr obabi l i t y P r ( ( e n t i t y ) l wa r n ) i s much hi gher t han the pr i or pr obabi l i t y Pr ((ent i t y))
(see equat i on 1), l eadi ng t o a hi gh val ue of sel ect i onal associ at i on f or cl ass
(enti ty). As defi ned, the model has an i nsuffi ci ent basi s f or deci di ng that the
pr oper t y of bei ng a per son i s mor e i mpor t ant t han the pr oper t y of bei ng an enti ty,
wher e obj ect s of wa r n ar e concer ned. Thi s may be a case wher e assumi ng t oo
li ttle, i n par t i cul ar i gnor i ng the ve r b' s semant i cs, coul d be l i mi t i ng the mode l ' s
accur acy.
Fi nal l y, i t i s wor t h not i ng that the r at i ngs assi gned by the model ar e not si mpl y a
mat t er of co- occur r ence fr equency. Of the 16 i t ems i n the gr oup of pl ausi bl e
obj ect s, 10 never occur r ed wi t h the cor r espondi ng ver b i n the l ear ni ng sampl e at
all. As an exampl e, the obj ect i n the pai r wa r n d r i v e r r ecei ves i ts r at i ng because,
gi ven the obj ect s of wa r n that d i d occur , the sel ect i onal pr ofi le of the ver b
assi gned (per son) a hi gher val ue of sel ect i onal associ at i on t han any ot her
concept ual cat egor y t o whi ch d r i v e r bel ongs. Thus the concept ual or gani zat i on of
ar gument s - i n the i mpl ement at i on, the Wor dNet noun t axonomy - i s pl ayi ng a
cr uci al r ole. Nor i s si mpl e co- occur r ence f r equency by concept ual cat egor y
r esponsi bl e f or the r ati ngs: the cl ass (enti ty) ( " s ome t hi ng havi ng concr et e
exi st ence; l i vi ng or nonl i vi ng" ) has a gr eat er co- occur r ence f r equency wi t h wa r n
t han does (per son), si nce the f or mer i s a mor e gener i c concept t han the latter , yet
the val ues of sel ect i onal associ at i on pr edi ct , cor r ect l y, t hat peopl e ar e sti ll a bet t er
semant i c fi t as obj ect s of war n t han ar e physi cal ent i t i es i n gener al .
E X P E R I ME N T 2
The second exper i ment f ocused not on a har d di st i nct i on bet ween pl ausi bl e and
i mpl ausi bl e ar gument s, but on a compar i s on of the magni t udes of sel ect i onal
associ at i on and t ypi cal i t y r at i ngs el i ci t ed f r om human subj ect s. The quant i t at i ve
nat ur e of the model i s based on the pr emi se t hat human j udgment s of the " f i t "
bet ween pr edi cat es and ar gument s ar e gr aded r at her t han cat egor i cal ; t her ef or e one
woul d pr edi ct that, to the ext ent that the model i s accur at e and the si mul at i on
fai t hful , quant i t at i ve " j udgme nt s " of fi t (sel ect i onal associ at i on) shoul d cor r el at e
wi t h the quant i t at i ve t ypi cal i t y j udgment s el i ci t ed f r om adul t subj ect s.
9. Ma t e r i a l s
Twent y- ei ght sent ences f r om a st udy by Tr ueswei l et al. (1994, Appendi x 3,
Exper i ment 1) all had the s ame f or m as exampl e (7). ~ 3 The ver b i n the embedded
cl ause and the modi f i ed noun wer e ext r act ed by hand f r om the sent ences and
~3Si nce Holmes et al. (1989) provi de only mean plausi bi li ty rati ngs for the two groups, rather than
mean rati ngs by i tem, i t was not possi ble to look for a correlati on between selecti onal associ ati on and
the human rati ngs usi ng the data from Experi ment 1.
14, 4 1. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
tr eated as a ver b- obj ect pai r i ng. Verbs and nouns wer e manually r educed to thei r
r oot for ms, wher e necessar y. For example, (7b) yi elded solution as a candi date
object for propose. One pai r i ng was excluded because the ver b, grade, never
appear ed wi th a sur face di r ect object i n the Br own cor pus.
As Tr ueswell et al. (1994, Secti on 3.2.3) r epor t, typi cali ty r ati ngs for the pai r s
wer e obtai ned as par t of a lar ge nor mi ng pr oject conducted at the Uni ver si ty of
Souther n Cali for ni a, i nvolvi ng a total of 107 subjects. Subjects wer e asked to r ate
ver b- noun pai r i ngs by r ati ng questi ons li ke " How typi cal i s i t for evi dence to be
exami ned by someone" on a 7-poi nt scale, wi th a r ati ng of 1 i ndi cati ng " not
typi cal at al l " and 7 i ndi cati ng " ver y typi cal. "
10. Method
Same as Exper i ment 1.
11. Results and discussion
Table 3 shows each ver b- obj ect pai r i ng, together wi th the mean typi cali ty
r ati ngs assi gned by subjects i n the nor mi ng study and the r ati ngs assi gned by the
model. Ther e i s a stati sti cally si gni fi cant cor r elati on between the two sets of
r ati ngs (r ---0.46, F(1, 25) =6. 78, p( F) < . 02) ; the scatter plot i n Fi g. 3 shows the
r elati onshi p between the two sets. The cor r elati on r emai ns si gni fi cant i f the two
poi nts at the lower left comer of the plot ar e eli mi nated as outli er s (r = 0.44, F(1,
23) = 5.60, p( F) <. 03) , though i t degr ades i f the poi nt at the extr eme upper r i ght i s
r emoved also ( r =0. 37, F(1, 22) =3. 57, p( F) < . 08) .
The cor r elati on between the model ' s r ati ngs, based on selecti onal associ ati on,
and human subject r ati ngs, based on judgments of typi cali ty, pr ovi des some
suppor t for the model as a quanti tati ve appr oxi mati on of selecti onal constr ai nts,
though the match i s far fr om per fect. As i n Exper i ment 1, the model i s li mi ted by
the unavai labi li ty of wor d sense i nfor mati on; however , unli ke i n Exper i ment 1,
manual di sambi guati on of the ar guments for thi s set of i tems had no appr eci able
effect on the r esult ( r =0. 45, F(1, 25) =6. 43, p( F) < . 02) . In par t, thi s r eflects
some choi ces made i n constr ucti ng Wor dNet that left cer tai n senses si mply
unavai lable to the model - for example, i n thi s ver si on of Wor dNet poultry
appear s i n the t axonomy only as a ki nd of ani mal, not as a food, whi ch has a
mar ked effect on i ts r ati ng. However , as i n Exper i ment 1, shor tcomi ngs of the
model may also r eflect the i nher ent li mi ts that r esult fr om assumi ng as li ttle as
possi ble, or the r eli ance on a li mi ted tr ai ni ng sample, or both; for example,
subjects' r ati ngs of typi cali ty undoubtedly r eflect i mpli ci t i nfer ences made usi ng
the mental model they constr uct of a hypotheti cal si tuati on, gi ven a sentence to be
r ated (Johnson-Lai r d, 1983), and that i nfor mati on i s unavai lable to the model
pr esented her e.
That sai d, Exper i ments 1 and 2 pr ovi de an empi r i cal assessment of the model i n
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
Table 3
Typi cali ty rati ngs data on i tems from Trueswell et al. (1994)
145
Verb Object Rati ng Assoc. Class
eat poultry 6.6 3.54 (enti ty)
do work 6.4 12.03 (enti ty)
exami ne evi dence 6.3 0.78 (content)
throw ball 6.2 4.52 (enti ty)
see truck 6. I 5.79 (enti ty)
wri te letter 6.1 7.26 (wri ti ng)
grow crop 6.0 2.78 (object)
break vase 5.9 1.02 (arti fact)
descri be necklace 5.9 0.00 (necklace)
draw poster 5.9 0.20 (horse)
take money 5.6 0.02 (money)
expect package 5.5 5.93 (enti ty)
transport gold 5.5 8.62 (substance)
li ft bri cks 5.4 5.10 (enti ty)
study pai nti ng 5.4 0.79 (art)
show wallpaper 5.3 0.00 (wallpaper)
steal van 5.2 1.86 (object)
request equi pment 5. I 3.72 (enti ty)
scratch sofa 4.8 1.83 (object)
want account 4.6 0.83 (communi cati on)
i denti fy jewelry 4.4 0.46 (decorati on)
select reci pe 4.4 0.00 (message)
choose computer 4.3 2.84 (enti ty)
recogni ze van 4.1 0.50 (enti ty)
attack power plant 3.2 0.00 -
love textbook 1.9 0.00 (publi cati on)
capture valley 1.8 0.00 (valley)
a wa y t hat pr e vi ous pr opos al s ha ve not . Gi v e n an abs t r act f or mal char act er i zat i on
of t he model , a c omput a t i ona l s i mul a t i on was de r i ve d us i ng l i ngui s t i c i nput ( t he
Br o wn cor pus) a nd a c onc e pt ua l or ga ni z a t i on ( Wor dNe t ) not de s i gne d f or t hi s
speci f i c t ask, a nd t he s i mul a t i on was t he n us e d t o pr ovi de r at i ngs e va l ua t e d
obj ect i vel y agai ns t h u ma n j u d g me n t s , whe r e t hos e j u d g me n t s wer e el i ci t ed
e xpe r i me nt a l l y f or an ent i r el y di f f er ent pur pos e. The r e s ul t i ng pr edi ct i ons appear
ge ne r a l l y c ons i s t e nt wi t h adul t k n o wl e d g e of s el ect i onal cons t r ai nt s .
12. Ana l y s i s o f i mpl i c i t obj ect al t e r nat i ons
I n a s econd set of e xpe r i me nt s , t he mo d e l of s el ect i onal c ons t r a i nt s was
e mp l o y e d i n a r at her di f f er ent way. Un l i k e Ex p e r i me n t s 1 a nd 2, whi c h s ought to
e va l ua t e t he out put of t he mode l as di r ect l y as pos s i bl e agai ns t h u ma n j u d g me n t s ,
her e t he mode l of s el ect i onal c ons t r a i nt s was us e d to i nves t i gat e a l i ngui s t i c
p r o b l e m c o n c e r n i n g t he wa y i n whi c h c e r t a i n ver bs i n Engl i s h expr es s t hei r
a r gume nt s . The goal was not a s i mpl e qua nt i t a t i ve r esul t , s uch as t he cor r el at i on
1 4 6 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
A, K~ oc
I F i I ]
12. 00 -
l 1. 00 - -
10. 00
9. 00
8. 00 - -
7 . 0 0 - -
6 . 0 0 - -
5. 00 - -
4 . 0 0 - -
3 . 0 0
2 . 0 0 - -
1. 00
0 . 0 0 - : -
I J ! I I Rat i ng
2. 00 3. 00 4. 00 5. 00 6. 00
Fi g. 3. Selecti onal associ ati on rati ngs versus typi cali ty rati ngs.
wi th human judgments i n Exper i ment 2, but r ather an i mpr oved under standi ng of
the r ole selecti onal constr ai nts mi ght play i n li ngui sti c behavi or , usi ng the for mal
model (and i ts computati onal r eali zati on) as an explor ator y tool.
A well- known phenomenon of Engli sh i s the abi li ty of some ver bs to appear
wi thout thei r di r ect objects, as i n (9b) and (10c):
(9) (a)
(b)
( l O ) ( a )
(b)
(c)
John ate hi s di nner befor e Mar y ar r i ved.
John ate befor e Mar y ar r i ved.
Remember the game we wer e watchi ng last ni ght?
Well, the Mets won i t.
Well, the Mets won.
Examples of thi s ki nd i llustr ate diathesis alternations, so called because they
concer n the abi li ty of ver bs to alter nate between di ffer ent ways of expr essi ng thei r
ar guments. In the unspecified object alter nati on (Levi n, 1993), i llustr ated i n
example (9), the omi tted object must r ecei ve an i ndefi ni te or exi stenti al i nter pr eta-
ti on. In the specified object alter nati on (Cote, 1992), i llustr ated i n example (10),
an omi tted object must r efer back to somethi ng alr eady under di scussi on. I wi ll
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 147
gr oup bot h t hese al t er nat i ons t oget her under the headi ng of i mp l i c i t o b j e c t
al t er nat i ons )4
Di at hesi s al t er nat i ons ar e a cent r al focus i n r esear ch on the r epr esent at i on and
acqui si t i on of the l exi con ( Levi n, 1993; Pi nker , 1989) because the synt act i c
al t er nat i ons i n whi ch a ver b par t i ci pat es oft en r eflect s ome aspect of i ts semant i cs,
and to a gr eat ext ent the acqui si t i on of a ver b consi st s i n r el at i ng i ts sur face
synt act i c behavi or to i ts under l yi ng semant i c r epr esent at i on. Unl i ke many al t er na-
ti ons, however , the i mpl i ci t obj ect al t er nat i ons appear t o i nvol ve not onl y the ver b
i tself, but al so the r el at i onshi p bet ween the ver b and i ts ar gument . In par t i cul ar , i t
has been suggest ed t hat ver bs al l owi ng i mpl i ci t obj ect s sat i sfy aspect ual cr i ter i a,
t oget her wi t h a r equi r ement t hat the omi t t ed obj ect be t ypi cal of the ver b or t hat i ts
pr oper t i es be i n s ome sense i nf er abl e (Lehr er , 1970; Br owne, 1971; Mi t t woch,
1971, 1982; Ri ce, 1988; Fel l baum and Kegl , 1989; Levi n, 1993; Br i sson, 1994).
The aspect ual cr i t er i a have been di scussed f or mal l y wi t hi n the f r a me wor k of
Vendl er ' s (Vendler , 1967) aspect ual cl asses, and f or the mos t par t consi st i n the
r equi r ement t hat ver bs par t i ci pat i ng i n thi s al t er nat i on denot e act i vi t i es when used
i nt r ansi t i vel y ( t hough see Mi t t woch, 197 l , Mi t t woch, 1982 f or ful l er di scussi on).
The r equi r ement of i nfer abi l i t y or t ypi cal i t y, however , has been expr essed onl y
i nf or mal l y unt i l now.
The model of sel ect i onal const r ai nt s pr opos ed her e pr ovi des an oppor t uni t y to
expl or e the r el at i onshi p bet ween i mpl i ci t obj ect s and the not i ons of i nfer abi l i t y or
t ypi cal i t y, i n a mor e f or mal setti ng. As di scussed ear l i er , the sel ect i onal pr ef er ence
st r engt h of a ver b f or an ar gument - defi ned i n t er ms of r el at i ve ent r opy - can be
vi ewed qui t e l i t er al l y as the quant i t y of i n f o r ma t i o n t hat the ver b car r i es about t hat
ar gument . Gi ven that char act er i zat i on, one shoul d expect that, gi ven the ver b, the
mor e st r ongl y an ar gument i s sel ect ed for , the easi er i t shoul d be to i nfer , or
equi val ent l y, the mor e " t ypi c a l " t hat ar gument shoul d seem. Thi s, i n tur n, l eads t o
the f ol l owi ng pr edi ct i on: the abi l i t y of a ver b to par t i ci pat e i n i mpl i ci t obj ect
al t er nat i ons i s l ar gel y pr edi ct ed by i ts sel ect i onal pr ef er ence st r engt h.
Ideal l y, thi s pr edi ct i on shoul d not be t est ed on i ts own. As not ed, the aspect ual
cl ass of a ver b pl ays an i mpor t ant r ol e i n det er mi ni ng whet her or not i t par t i ci pat es
i n the i ndefi ni t e obj ect al t er nat i on ( t hough the i nfl uence of aspect on the speci fi ed
obj ect al t er nat i on i s less wel l st udi ed); thus aspect ual cl ass shoul d be one of the
var i abl es i n thi s exper i ment . Unf or t unat el y, aspect ual cl ass i s a di ffi cult concept t o
pi n down, and get t i ng r el i abl e j udgment s concer ni ng the aspect ual cl ass of a ver b
i s qui t e di ffi cult. As a r esult, t her efor e, the r el at i onshi p bet ween sel ect i onal
pr ef er ence st r engt h and i mpl i ci t obj ect al t er nat i ons was i nvest i gat ed wi t hout
expl i ci t l y t aki ng aspect ual cl ass i nto account .
~4Also see Fi llmore's (Fi llmore, 1986) di scussi on of "i ndefi ni te null complements" and "defi ni te
null complements." There are, of course, other reasons an Engli sh verb mi ght appear wi thout i ts object.
For example, objects can be omi tted i n descri pti ons of habi tual or characteri sti c acti vi ti es - "Pussycats
eat, but ti gers devour!" Thi s study concerned only "lexi cally condi ti oned" omi ssi on of di rect objects;
see di scussi on by Fellbaum and Kegl (1989) and Resni k (1993).
148 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
E X P E R I ME N T 3
The pr edi cted connecti on between selecti onal pr efer ence str ength and i mpli ci t
objects was tested by means of a computati onal exper i ment.
13. Ma t e r i a l s
The set of verbs i nvesti gated i s gi ven i n Table 4; verbs selected for the set were
chosen because they occur r ed fr equently i n a collecti on of par ent-chi ld i nterac-
ti ons (Anne Leder er , per sonal communi cati on). Befor e computi ng selecti onal
pr efer ence str ength, the verbs wer e manually classi fi ed accor di ng to li ngui sti c
di agnosti cs (Cote, 1992; Resni k, 1993) i nto two gr oups, desi gnated Alter nati ng
(those verbs that par ti ci pate i n one of the i mpli ci t object alter nati ons) and
Non-Alter nati ng.
14. Me t h o d
Selecti onal pr efer ence str ength was computed separ ately for the thr ee cor por a,
r esulti ng i n the values gi ven ear li er i n Table 1.
15. Re s ul t s a n d d i s c u s s i o n
The thr ee cor por a can be tr eated as yi eldi ng three di ffer ent r epli cati ons of the
same exper i ment. In all of them, verbs par ti ci pati ng i n one of the i mpli ci t object
alter nati ons have a si gni fi cantly hi gher str ength of selecti onal pr efer ence for the
di r ect object than verbs that do not. For the model constr ucted usi ng the Br own
cor pus data, the means for the Altemati ng and Non-Alter nati ng gr oups wer e
r especti vely 2.97 and 1.73 (Mann-Whi t ney U =55, p =-.001). For the model usi ng
data fr om the CHILDES collecti on, the means wer e r especti vely 2.25 and 1.13
(Mann-Whi t ney U= 37, p<. 0005) . Fi nally, for the model usi ng the human
subject nor ms the means wer e r especti vely 2.17 and 1.66 (Mann-Whi t ney U = 57,
p < .0025).
These r esults confi r m the hypothesi s that verbs par ti ci pati ng i n i mpli ci t object
Table 4
Classi fi cati on of ver bs wi th r espect to i mpli ci t object al t emat i ons
Gr oup Ver bs
ALTERNATING call dr i nk eat explai n hear pack play pour pull push r ead si ng
steal watch wr i te
NON-ALTERNATING br i ng catch do fi nd get gi ve hang have hi t li ke make open put say
see show take want wear
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 149
alter nati ons select mor e str ongly for the di r ect objects than ver bs that do not.
Repli cati ons usi ng di ffer ent cor por a confi r m that the di ffer ence i s not the r esult of
qui r ky stati sti cal behavi or i n a par ti cular cor pus. Ther e i s, however , no clear
thr eshold separ ati ng the two gr oups of ver bs. For exampl e, usi ng the Br own
Cor pus data, the thr ee " weakes t " alter nati ng ver bs ar e cal l , hear, and wat ch, wi th
selecti onal pr efer ence str engths r angi ng fr om 1.52 to 1.97. Li kewi se, the thr ee
" st r ongest " non-alter nati ng ver bs ar e hang, wear, and open, wi th selecti onal
pr efer ence str engths r angi ng fr om 2.93 to 3.35.
EXPERI MENT 4
Exper i ment 3 confi r med the hypothesi s that opti onali ty of the di r ect object i s
connected to selecti onal pr efer ence, the r ati onale bei ng that str ength of selecti onal
pr efer ence i s, as for mali zed her e, a measur e of how easy i t i s to i nfer or
r econstr uct necessar y pr oper ti es of the omi tted object. Gi ven that selecti on i s
r elevant to lexi cal-syntacti c pr oper ti es - that i s, lexi cal knowledge bear i ng on
syntacti c compet ence - a natur al questi on to ask i s whether selecti onal pr efer ence
affects per for mance, as well. I f selecti onal pr efer ence str ength measur es how much
i nfor mati on a ver b car r i es about i ts object, then on-li ne i nfer ences about omi tted
objects should be easi er for ver bs that select str ongly r ather than weakly, and thi s
should be r eflected i n on-li ne syntacti c behavi or .
Ease of i nfer ence i s a subject for i nvesti gati on by psycholi ngui sti c r ather than
computati onal methods. However , i n per for mance, a speaker or wr i ter i s li kely to
be i nfluenced by how easy i t wi ll be for the li stener or r eader to ar r i ve at the
cor r ect i nter pr etati on. In par ti cular , one would expect that ver bs for whi ch the
object i s r eadi ly i nfer able wi ll omi t that ar gument cor r espondi ngly mor e fr equently
than ver bs for whi ch the object i s not easi ly i nfer r ed. In another exper i ment,
ther efor e, I have agai n i denti fi ed ease of i nfer ence wi th str ength of selecti onal
pr efer ence, thi s ti me pr edi cti ng a cor r elati on between selecti onal pr efer ence and
the omi ssi on of di r ect objects i n natur ally occur r i ng text.
16. Materi al s
In or der to deter mi ne the fr equency wi th whi ch ver bs omi t thei r objects, I
extr acted fr om the Br own Cor pus a r andom sample of 100 i nstances of each ver b
used i n the pr ecedi ng exper i ment (or as many i nstances as wer e avai lable, i f fewer
than 100). For each i nstance. I used the full sentence i n whi ch the ver b appear ed,
together wi th the full pr ecedi ng sentence, to deci de whether or not thi s i nstance
was an exampl e of an i mpli ci t object constr ucti on. The j udgment s wer e made
usi ng the same li ngui sti c di agnosti cs as i n Exper i ment 3) s
~5For practi cal reasons the verb have was excluded from thi s procedure.
150 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
17. Met hod
This experiment used the same values o f selectional preference strength
computed in Experiment 3.
18. Resul t s and di scussi on
A correlation between selectional preference strength and percentage o f implicit
objects emerged in each o f the three versions o f the experiment: Brown Corpus
(N=33, r =0.48, F(I, 31)=9.53, p(F)<.005), CHILDES (N=32, r =0.36, F(I,
30)=4.33, p ( F ) < . 0 5 ) , human subject norms ( N= 3 3 , r = 0 . 5 8 , F( 1, 3 1 ) = 15.74,
p ( F ) < . 0 0 0 5 ) . Table 5 shows the percentage o f objects omitted for each verb
together with the selectional preference strength calculated in each o f the three
experiments (repeated from Table 1).
As the table shows, some verbs deviate by failing to omit their objects despite
very strong selection for the direct object (e.g., wear, say, pour). In many cases
these verbs fail to meet the aspectual requirements for participation in the
indefinite object alternation, namely that the event denoted by the verb be
interpretable as an activity (in the sense o f Vendler, 1967) i f the verb appears
without an object. It is important to notice, however, t hat deviations o f the
opposite kind do not appear to occur: verbs do not omit their objects frequently
unless they possess a high selectional preference strength. I woul d argue that this
T a b l e 5
S t r e n g t h o f s e l e c t i o n a l p r e f e r e n c e a n d f r e q u e n c y o f i m p l i c i t d i r e c t o b j e c t s
V e r b % I m p l i c i t S t r e n g t h V e r b % I m p l i c i t S t r e n g t h
B r o w n C H I L D E S N o r m s B r o w n C H I L D E S N o r m s
dr i nk 45. I 4.38 2.38 2.83 do 0.0 1.84 - 2.21
s i n g 38.3 3.58 3.15 2.63 fi nd 0.0 0.96 0.71 1.30
e a t 31.8 3.51 1.15 2.47 get 0.0 0.82 0.28 1.17
w r i t e 25.2 2.54 2.33 2.18 gi ve 0.0 0.79 1.18 1.81
p l a y 19.6 2.51 2.13 2.64 hang 0.9 3.35 2.03 1.96
r e a d 12.7 2.35 2.58 1.81 have - 0.43 - 1.23
h i t 9.2 2.49 1.31 1.91 li ke 0.0 2.59 0.89 1.30
c a l l 7.3 1.52 0.95 2.39 make 0.0 0.72 0.77 1.58
s t e a l 7.9 3.52 2.28 1.34 pour 0.0 4.80 9.30 2.57
p a c k 4.9 4.12 3.71 1.75 put 0.0 1.24 0.40 1.34
o p e n 3.7 2.93 2.41 1.88 say 0.0 2.82 0.94 2.56
e x p l a i n 2.7 2.39 4.41 2.20 see 0.9 1.06 0~ 48 1.54
h e a r 2.8 1.70 1.67 1.71 show 0.0 1.39 1.83 1.42
c a t c h 1.8 2.47 1.67 1.92 take 0.0 0.93 0.74 1.28
p u l l 1, .9 2.77 1.55 2.22 want 0.0 1.52 0.70 1.71
p u s h 1.0 2.87 1.77 1.98 watch 0.0 1.97 1.44 1.86
b r i n g 0.0 1.33 0.88 1.04 wear 0.0 3.13 2.02 2.30
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-1.59 151
patter n r eflects an under lyi ng har d r equi r ement, namel y that str ong selecti on i s a
necessar y condi ti on for object omi ssi on.
Although pr evi ous wor k ar gues convi nci ngly that the syntacti c r eali zati on of
ar guments for thi s gr oup of ver bs i s connected wi th aspectual categor y, j6 thi s study
goes beyond the assumpti on that the syntacti c behavi or of these ver bs ar i ses o n l y
by vi r tue of thei r semanti c str uctur e, pur sui ng the possi bi li ty that i n thi s case
ar gument r eali zati on i s also a functi on of semanti c content (wher e semanti c
str uctur e and semanti c content ar e i nter pr eted i n the sense of Gr i mshaw, 1993, as
di scussed ear li er ). Exper i ment 3 has as i ts star ti ng poi nt the i ntui ti on, pr evi ously
stated i nfor mally, that unexpr essed objects tend to be r estr i cted to " t ypi cal " or
" pr obabl e" ar guments of the ver b (Ri ce, 1988; Levi n, 1993; Br i sson, 1994),
together wi th the fami li ar i dea that the i nfer r ed semanti c pr oper ti es of the omi tted
object consti tute i nfor mati on car r i ed by the ver b i n the for m of a selecti onal
constr ai nt (e.g., Jackendoff, 1990). Taken together , these suggest that i n or der for a
ver b to par ti ci pate i n these alter nati ons, the selecti onal constr ai nt i t i mposes on i ts
object must be r elati vely speci fi c. In the pr esent model, selecti onal constr ai nts ar e
for mali zed i n ter ms of a measur e of i nfor mati veness, whi ch leads to the testable
pr edi cti on that par ti ci pati on i n the alter nati on should be connected wi th hi gh
i nfor mati on content. Thi s pr edi cti on i s bor ne out by the si gni fi cant di ffer ence i n
selecti onal pr efer ence str ength between the alter nati ng and non-alter nati ng ver bs.
Exper i ment 4 goes fur ther by consi der i ng the per for mance aspects of an
alter nati on. Pr evi ous wor k on di athesi s alter nati ons under standably has had li ttle to
say about thi s, focusi ng on semanti c r epr esentati ons; i n contr ast, the pr esent model
makes quanti tati ve pr edi cti ons, thus maki ng i t possi ble to ask whether some
quanti tati ve aspects of lexi cal r epr esentati on mi ght be r eflected i n such quanti fi able
aspects of per for mance as on-li ne pr ocessi ng, fr equency, and the li ke. The two
per specti ves ar e r ather compl ement ar y: a gr eat body of wor k on di athesi s
alter nati ons suppor ts the vi ew that semanti c str uctur e i mposes categor i cal con-
str ai nts on the way ver bs c a n r eali ze thei r ar guments; the cor r elati ons i n
Exper i ment 4 suppor t the vi ew that semanti c content pr ovi des quanti tati ve
constr ai nts on the way ver bs d o r eali ze thei r ar guments.
GENERAL DI SCUSSI ON
19. Properties of the model
The model attempts to addr ess many of the i ssues r ai sed i n the li ter atur e on
selecti onal constr ai nts. Retur ni ng to the cr i ter i a outli ned ear li er :
1. Repr esentati onal assumpti ons about wor d meani ng ar e kept to a mi ni mum. In
~ And perhaps other elements of verb meani ng, as well: some subclasses of acti vi ty verbs that
parti ci pate i n these alternati ons appear to be semanti cally coherent (e.g., dust, iron, sweep, crochet, sew,
knit, draw, sing, paint).
152 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127- 159
par ti cular , i t i s not necessar y to make the assumpti on, now wi dely vi ewed as
untenable, that a wor d meani ng can he expr essed defi ni ti onally, as a set of
necessar y and suffi ci ent Boolean condi ti ons. Nor do the pr edi cti ons of the
model r equi r e gener al i nfer enti al mechani sms. Instead, the model i mposes a
mi ni mal r equi r ement about the r epr esentati on of ar guments, namely that i t be
possi ble to or gani ze wor d meani ngs i nto di scr ete classes. Mor e elabor ated
r epr esentati ons, notably those based on the noti on of semanti c decomposi ti on,
ar e allowed but not r equi r ed.
2. The for mal model per mi ts, and the computati onal i mplementati on r eali zes,
selecti onal constr ai nts that can r efer to ar bi tr ar i ly speci fi c pr oper ti es r ather than
a small set of semanti c pr i mi ti ves. Although pr oper ti es ar e not an expli ci t par t
of the knowledge r epr esentati on, they ar e expr essed i mpli ci tly i n the way the
taxonomy or gani zes wor d meani ngs. By usi ng an on-li ne lexi con, Wor dNet, that
attempts to captur e " al l the concepts that ar e lexi cali zed i n Engli sh" (Geor ge
Mi ller , per sonal communi cati on), the computati onal i mplementati on of t he
model r eflects i n a fai r ly di r ect way McCawl ey' s (McCawley, 1968) obser va-
ti on that " on any page of a lar ge di cti onar y one fi nds wor ds wi th i ncr edi bly
speci fi c selecti onal r estr i cti ons."
3. A noti on aki n to semanti c anomaly ar i ses wi thi n the model as a matter of
degr ee, i n the for m of a quanti tati ve measur e of selecti onal associ ati on (cf.
Wi lks, 1975; Wi lks and Fass, 1992). Tr adi ti onal examples (gr een i deas,
si ncer i ty sleepi ng) sti ll fall out natur ally as selecti onal " vi ol at i ons" because
when all the classes to whi ch the ar gument belongs ar e consi der ed, no class has
a posi ti ve selecti onal associ ati on wi th the pr edi cate.
The exper i ments pr esented her e pr ovi de empi r i cal suppor t for thi s model as an
appr oxi mati on of adult knowledge of selecti onal constr ai nts. Exper i ments 1 and 2
make a di r ect compar i son between " j udgment s" of selecti onal fi t, as computed by
the model, and r ati ngs of ar gument plausi bi li ty or typi cali ty eli ci ted fr om adult
subjects. Although the adult r ati ngs ar e i nfluenced by factor s other than selecti onal
constr ai nts per se, they r epr esent the closest exper i mental appr oxi mati on to
selecti onal fi t that one i s li kely to fi nd r eadi ly avai lable. Exper i ments 3 and 4
establi sh a connecti on between selecti onal constr ai nts, as for mali zed i n the model,
and the syntacti c r eali zati on of ar guments for a class of ver bs i n Engli sh. Although
the behavi or of these ver bs has been li nked i nfor mally to some noti on of
i nfer abi li ty or typi cali ty i n the past, the i nter pr etati on of selecti onal pr efer ence
str ength as a quanti ty of i nfor mati on makes a new, for mal account possi ble. The
empi r i cal success of thi s account lends fur ther cr edi bi li ty to the under lyi ng model,
though the i nter acti on between aspectual class and ar gument i nfer abi li ty for these
ver bs clear ly r equi r es fur ther study.
20. Learning
A pr i nci pal r eason for adopti ng the str ategy i n thi s paper - seeki ng a model of
selecti onal constr ai nts that does not assume much pr i or knowledge of ver bs'
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159 153
semanti c r epr esentati ons - i s that selecti onal constr ai nts may t hemsel ves have a
r ole i n lear ni ng whi ch ver b for ms go wi th whi ch r epr esentati ons (the mappi ng
probl em: Fi sher et al., 1994; Pi nker , 1994). In one r elevant li ne of r esear ch,
Gl ei t man and colleagues explor e the i nfor mati on potenti ally pr ovi ded by di ffer ent
sour ces of evi dence about ver b meani ng (Landau and Glei tman, 1985; Gl ei t man et
al., 1988; Glei tman, 1990; Fi sher et al., 1991; Leder er et al., 1991). Glei tman and
Gi llette (1995) show that selecti onal constr ai nts pr ovi de adult subjects wi th
si gni fi cant constr ai nts on the possi ble meani ngs of unknown ver bs, well over and
above the constr ai nts pr ovi ded by obser vati on of vi sual context, the syntacti c
fr ame i n whi ch the ver b i s used, or even knowledge of the par ti ci pants i n an event
wi thout thei r speci fi c r elati onshi p to the ver b. The r elevant mani pulati on i n thei r
exper i ments i s one i n whi ch subjects wer e gi ven li sts of the nouns appear i ng i n a
mot her ' s utter ances to her chi ld, alphabeti zed to obscur e the pr edi cat e- ar gument
str uctur e and show only noun co-occur r ences wi thi n each sentence. Asked to guess
the ver b, subjects i n thi s condi ti on guessed cor r ectly only 13% of the ti me. Gi ven
the syntacti c fr ames fr om the same utter ances (wi th tar get ver b and all nouns
conver ted to cor r espondi ng nonsense wor ds, as i n Rom GORPS that t he rivenflak
is grum), subjects i denti fi ed 52%, of the ver bs cor r ectly. But gi ven the syntacti c
fr ames together wi th the nouns i n thei r cor r ect posi ti ons, subjects i denti fi ed the
cor r ect ver b 80% of the ti me. Gi llette and Glei tman wr i te:
It doesn' t much help to know that one of the wor ds i n an utter ance was
hamburger. But i f thi s wor d i s known to sur face as di r ect object, the
meani ng of the ver b mi ght well be eat ... the str uctur al i nfor mati on conver ts
co-occur r ence i nfor mati on to selecti onal i nfor mati on.
Cor r espondi ngly, Pi nker (1994) wr i tes:
[ Chi ldr en] sur ely can i nfer much about what a ver b means fr om the
meani ngs of the other wor ds i n the sentence and fr om however much of the
sent ence' s str uctur e they ar e able to par se. I f someone wer e to hear 1 f i l ped
the del i ci ous sandwi ch and now I ' m f ul l , pr esumabl y he or she could fi gur e
out that ... f l i p means somethi ng li ke " eat " . But ... no thanks ar e due to the
ver bs' syntacti c fr ames (i n thi s case, tr ansi ti ve). Rather , we know what those
ver bs mean because of the semanti cs of ... sandwi ch, delicious, f ul l , and the
par ti al syntacti c analysi s that li nks them together .
Pi nker i s alludi ng pr i mar i ly to r eal-wor ld conti ngenci es, such as the fact that
" hear i ng a ver b used wi th sandwi ch suggests that i t i nvolves eat i ng. " However ,
the par ti al syntacti c analysi s he r efer s to pr ovi des cr i ti cal i nfor mati on not avai lable
fr om the semanti cs of sandwi ch alone, nor any unor der ed combi nati on of the
known par ti ci pants i n the event. Noti ce that, gi ven the same set of r eal-wor ld
conti ngenci es but the sentence The del i ci ous sandwi ch f i l ped me and now l ' m f ul l ,
the meani ng EAT would be an i mplausi ble hypothesi s for the meani ng of flip,
154 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159
because s a n d wi c h i s an unli kely subj ect / agent , but a meani ng such as SATISFY
would be per fectly plausi ble. It i s, ther efor e, nei ther the pr esence of s a n d wi c h as a
par ti ci pant i n the event nor the syntacti c str uctur e alone that pr ovi des the necessar y
constr ai nt, but r ather the semanti c content of s a n d wi c h as a par ti cular ar gument of
the ver b. Pi nker ' s theor y of ver b acqui si ti on contr asts notably wi th Gl ei t man' s i n
i ts emphasi s on obser vati on of r eal-wor ld conti ngenci es as opposed to the
i nfluence of gr ammati cal context. However , knowl edge about the semanti c content
of ar guments - that i s, selecti onal constr ai nts - appear s to have a r ole i n both
appr oaches, pr ovi di ng the lear ner wi th constr ai nts on hypotheses about ver b
meani ng.
Gr open (1993) pr oposes a speci fi c mechani sm for the use of selecti onal
constr ai nts, extendi ng Pi nker ' s (Pi nker , 1989) lear ni ng theor y i n or der to addr ess
the pr obl em of ver b pol ysemy. The cor e of the theor y i s a pr ocess of " semant i c
str uctur e hypothesi s t est i ng" acr oss obser vati ons of a ver b bei ng used i n context.
Pr esented wi th a new wor d, the chi ld i ni ti ally hypothesi zes a meani ng that may be
over l y speci fi c (e.g., guessi ng that o p e n means somethi ng li ke " act on a door i n a
pulli ng manner " ) ; subsequent obser vati ons of the wor d ar e then used to r efi ne the
hypothesi s, and the chi ld r etai ns only those elements of meani ng that ar e
consi stent acr oss si tuati ons of use (e.g, seei ng a door opened by pushi ng i t, the
chi ld expunges the " pul l i ng" r equi r ement fr om the ver b' s meani ng). Gr open
poi nts out that ver b pol ysemy compli cates thi s basi c account: i f multi ple senses of
a ver b ar e not i ndi vi duated, thi s r efi nement of the hypothesi s can bli ndly r ule out
elements of meani ng that ar e cr uci al for one sense but not another . He suggests
that chi ldr en solve thi s pr obl em by bei ng sensi ti ve to the cor r elati on between ver b
meani ngs and the types of the par ti ci pants i n the obser ved si tuati on labeled by the
ver b stem. Inconsi stenci es i n the semanti c pr oper ti es of the ver b' s ar guments
acr oss obser ved si tuati ons pr ovi de evi dence that the lear ner should be consi der i ng
di sti nct semanti c str uctur es, cor r espondi ng to di ffer ent senses of the ver b) 7
Gr i mshaw (1994) attempts to r econci le the r oles of syntacti c and si tuati onal
context i n lexi cal lear ni ng, pr oposi ng a lear ni ng pr ocedur e i n whi ch selecti onal
constr ai nts play a key r ole. On Gr i mshaw' s model, the lear ner (1) uses the
obser ved si tuati on to posi t a sensi ble semanti c r elati onshi p among the par ti ci pants
i n that si tuati on, then (2) constr ucts a lexi cal conceptual str uctur e consi stent wi th
that r elati onshi p, and fi nally (3) uses gener al pr i nci ples mappi ng fr om semanti c
for m to syntacti c str uctur e i n or der to check whether the pr oposed conceptual
str uctur e i s consi stent wi th the sur face syntacti c str uctur e of the obser ved
utter ance. Befor e movi ng fr om the fi rst step to the second, however , the lear ni ng
pr ocedur e ver i fi es that the par ti ci pants i n the hypothesi zed semanti c r elati onshi p
ar e consi stent wi th the candi date ar gument expr essi ons i n the sentence. It i s thi s
consi stency check that r equi r es the appli cati on of selecti onal constr ai nts - as
,7 Si ski nd (1994) di scusses an alternati ve approach to i ndi vi duati ng word senses, usi ng a noti on of
i nconsi stency more general than that of di sti nct parti ci pant types.
P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-I. 59. 155
Gr i mshaw poi nts out, " i f the sentence contai ns two NPs, and one i s the ball, then
a ver b meani ng ' s ay' i s not a candi date, si nce i t i s not a possi ble r elati onshi p
between a ball and another ent i t y" (p. 423). As another example, consi der a
si tuati on i n whi ch I am obser ved maki ng musi c by doi ng somethi ng to a gui tar
wi th my hands, and the noun phr ases i n the sentence ar e Daddy and the guitar.
Although ther e ar e many possi ble constr uals of the obser ved si tuati on that i nvolve
me and the gui tar - for example, what my r i ght hand i s doi ng mi ght look a lot li ke
ti ckli ng - TICKLE i s a poor candi date for the semanti c r elati onshi p between the
par ti ci pants i n the utter ance because thi ngs that get ti ckled ar e gener ally ani mate. TM
Gi ven multi ple i nter pr etati ons of the same obser ved event, then, selecti onal
constr ai nts play an ear ly r ole i n r uli ng out possi ble i nter pr etati ons of the obser ved
scene, by eli mi nati ng conceptual i nter pr etati ons not consi stent wi th the ar guments
i n the sentence that was utter ed.
All these theor i es of lexi cal acqui si ti on make use of selecti onal constr ai nts, and
ther efor e each must ulti mately pr ovi de an expli ci t account of how they ar i se. On
the most commonl y held vi ew, selecti onal constr ai nts emer ge fr om some combi na-
ti on of lexi cal r epr esentati on, factual knowledge, and i nfer ence about consi stent
patter ns i n the r eal wor ld; however , the pr ocess by whi ch thi s takes place has
never been made expli ci t. Acqui si ti on of selecti onal constr ai nts i n the model
pr oposed her e can be vi ewed as a fi rst attempt to make such a pr ocess expli ci t,
dr asti cally si mpli fi ed by r educi ng gener al factual knowledge to knowledge of
t axonomi c r elati onshi ps, and by consi der i ng only patter ns of li ngui sti c behavi or
r ather than patter ns of mor e gener al r eal-wor ld obser vati on.
Vi ewi ng the model i n thi s way r equi r es two assumpti ons about chi ld language
lear ner s. The fi rst i s that thei r r epr esentati ons of ar guments ar e or gani zed i nto
conceptual classes. One cannot assume that chi l dr en' s or gani zati onal cr i ter i a
match the adult r epr esentati ons r eali zed by the i mplementati on, but the for mal
model would seem to be stati ng the ver y mi ni mum that one must assume i n or der
to say anythi ng at all about the semanti c or conceptual pr oper ti es of ar guments.
The second assumpti on i s the avai labi li ty of co-occur r ence fr equenci es for
pr edi cates and ar guments. Thi s i s a har der assumpti on to make, i n the absence of
fur ther assumpti ons about knowledge of ver b semanti cs; however , at least for
sur face syntacti c r elati onshi ps, ther e i s evi dence suggesti ng that chi ldr en may be
able to constr uct a skeletal par se on the basi s of known wor ds and pr osodi c
i nfor mati on (e.g., Keml er Nelson et al., 1989; Leder er and Kelly, 1991; also see
di scussi on i n Glei tman et al., 1988, and Fi sher et al., 1994). In the exper i ments
that wer e conducted her e usi ng par ental utter ances fr om the CHI LDES collecti on,
di r ect objects wer e i denti fi ed by a str ategy not much mor e sophi sti cated than " fi nd
the near est noun to the r i ght of the ver b, " so the i nput pr ovi ded to the lear ni ng
~ As i t happens, gi ven the lear ni ng sampl e fr om CHILDES, the cur r ent model pr oposes (r elati ve) as
the most str ongly associ ated class of di r ect objects for ti ckle, based on fr equent obser vati on of objects
li ke brother, daddy, and baby.
156 P. Resnik / Cognition 61 (1996) 127-159
algor i thm was no r i cher than the " par ti al sentence r epr esentati ons" di scussed by
Fi sher et al. (1994)) 9
To the extent that i ts assumpti ons ar e plausi ble, the i nfor mati on-theor eti c model
r epr esents a star ti ng poi nt for modeli ng the r ole of selecti onal constr ai nts i n a mor e
compr ehensi ve theor y of ver b acqui si ti on. Mor e gener ally, the appr oach taken her e
has methodologi cal i mpli cati ons: i t pr ovi des an example of how computati onal
methods and lar ge-scale collecti ons of natur ali sti c data can be used to explor e
i ssues that tr adi ti onally fall wi thi n the r ealms of li ngui sti cs and exper i mental
psychology. Combi ni ng the r esour ces of all these di sci pli nes may be the key to a
for mal theor y of language acqui si ti on that takes i nto account the noi sy, complex
data faced by the language lear ner .
Acknowledgments
Much of thi s wor k was conducted as par t of the author ' s doctor al di sser tati on at
the Uni ver si ty of Pennsylvani a. The author gr atefully acknowledges the di scus-
si ons and cr i ti ci sm of Steve Abney, Mi chael Br ent, Henr y Glei tman, Li la
Glei tman, El l en Hays, Mar ti Hear st, Ar avi nd Joshi , Bob Kuhns, Mar k Li ber man,
Mi tch Mar cus, Jeff Si ski nd, Ji m Waldo, and thr ee anonymous r evi ewer s, as well as
the fi nanci al suppor t of gr ants ARO DAAL 03-89-C-0031, DARPA NOOOI4-90-J-
1863, and Ben Fr ankli n 91S.3078C-1, and an IBM Gr aduate Fellowshi p.
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