Approaching explanatory adequacy in phonology using minimum description length

Ezer Rasin, Iddo Berger, Nur Lan, Itamar Shefi, Roni Katzir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A linguistic theory reaches explanatory adequacy if it arrives at a linguistically-appropriate grammar based on the kind of input available to children. In phonology, we assume that children can succeed even when the input consists of surface evidence alone, with no corrections or explicit paradigmatic information - that is, in learning from distributional evidence. We take the grammar to include both a lexicon of underlying representations and a mapping from the lexicon to surface forms. Moreover, this mapping should be able to express optionality and opacity, among other textbook patterns. This learning challenge has not yet been addressed in the literature. We argue that the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL) offers the right kind of guidance to the learner - favoring generalizations that are neither overly general nor overly specific - and can help the learner overcome the learning challenge. We illustrate with an implemented MDL learner that succeeds in learning various linguistically-relevant patterns from small corpora.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-66
Number of pages50
JournalJournal of Language Modelling
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Learning
  • Minimum description length
  • Opacity
  • Optionality
  • Phonology


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