Syntax and Semantics: Dichotomy Versus Integration

  • Bernard Scott
Part of the Machine Translation: Technologies and Applications book series (MATRA, volume 2)


This chapter deals in a general way with the linguistically-oriented mechanisms in the brain that enable it to decode an input stream of individual words into unambiguous, meaningful sentences. Do we know what the mechanism is that tells the brain that a string of words like “He wants an answer” constitutes an intelligible expression and that a gobbledygook string like “Answer he an wants” does not? Is the mechanism behind these judgments initially syntactic or semantic? We examine various views as to which of these mechanisms most accounts for the brain’s handling of language, particularly in the case where an input stream of words must then lead to its translation. And we try to understand how it happens that all of this is done in the brain without complexity effects. The intent here is not academic but practical, namely, to try and glean from among the competing views of cerebral language processing something of value for MT itself. Does the brain’s way of handling syntax and semantics have something to teach MT? In turn, we consider whether MT modeling itself might not have something to offer neuroscience on its open questions regarding language and the brain.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernard Scott
    • 1
  1. 1.Tarpon SpringsUSA

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