Natural language grammatical inference with recurrent neural networks

Steve Lawrence, C. Lee Giles, Sandiway Fong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


This paper examines the inductive inference of a complex grammar with neural networks - specifically, the task considered is that of training a network to classify natural language sentences as grammatical or ungrammatical, thereby exhibiting the same kind of discriminatory power provided by the Principles and Parameters linguistic framework, or Government-and-Binding theory. Neural networks are trained, without the division into learned vs. innate components assumed by Chomsky, in an attempt to produce the same judgments as native speakers on sharply grammatical/ungrammatical data. How a recurrent neural network could possess linguistic capability and the properties of various common recurrent neural network architectures are discussed. The problem exhibits training behavior which is often not present with smaller grammars and training was initially difficult. However, after implementing several techniques aimed at improving the convergence of the gradient descent backpropagation-through-time training algorithm, significant learning was possible. It was found that certain architectures are better able to learn an appropriate grammar. The operation of the networks and their training is analyzed. Finally, the extraction of rules in the form of deterministic finite state automata is investigated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-140
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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