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Cogn Sci. 2014 Aug;38(6):1190-228. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12147. Epub 2014 Aug 8.

Quasiregularity and its discontents: the legacy of the past tense debate.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Rumelhart and McClelland's chapter about learning the past tense created a degree of controversy extraordinary even in the adversarial culture of modern science. It also stimulated a vast amount of research that advanced the understanding of the past tense, inflectional morphology in English and other languages, the nature of linguistic representations, relations between language and other phenomena such as reading and object recognition, the properties of artificial neural networks, and other topics. We examine the impact of the Rumelhart and McClelland model with the benefit of 25 years of hindsight. It is not clear who "won" the debate. It is clear, however, that the core ideas that the model instantiated have been assimilated into many areas in the study of language, changing the focus of research from abstract characterizations of linguistic competence to an emphasis on the role of the statistical structure of language in acquisition and processing.


PDP models; Past tense debate; Quasiregularity; Words and rules

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