A computational analysis of conceptual combination through time


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This project aims to use computer modelling to explore how the human mind processes languages and the meaning behind words.

The details

‘Conceptual combination’ refers to the ability of the human brain to generate a new, higher-order concept by combining the knowledge of two basic existing concepts. In other words, the human mind can create new meaning from old referents. For example, a person who has never seen a polar bear before can still reasonably conjure an image in their minds by combining the separate concepts of “polar” and “bear”. The visual imagery of a bear is synthesised with the snow and the coldness of the North/South Pole, and a composite concept of a snowy-looking bear that lives in the harsh, cold environment of the poles is generated.

This research project seeks to further investigate the science behind ‘conceptual combination’, particularly how compound words are formed over time in natural languages, using a computer-based modelling approach. The goal of this project is to characterise the regularities in compound formation, and the extent to which they might inform the principles and automated processing of emergent compounds across languages.

Supervision team

The University of Toronto: Assistant Professor Yang Xu

The University of Melbourne: Dr Leah Frermann

First published on 17 November 2022.

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