The role of working memory in syntactic sentence realization: A modeling & simulation approach

Jeremy R. Cole, David Reitter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines the effects of working memory size in incremental grammatical encoding during language production. Our experiment tests different variants of a computational-cognitive model that combines an empirically validated framework of general cognition, ACT-R, with a linguistic theory, Combinatory Categorial Grammar. The model is induced from a corpus of spoken dialogue. This methodology facilitates comparison of different strategies and working memory capacities according to the similarity of the model's produced sentences to the corpus sentences. The experiment presented shows that while having more working memory available improves performance, using less working memory during realization does as well, even after controlling sentence length. Sentences realized with a more incremental strategy also appear to more closely track the naturalistic data. As high incrementality is correlated with low working memory usage, this study offers a possible mechanism by which syntactic incrementality can be explained. Finally, this paper proposes a multi-disciplinary modeling and simulation-based approach to empirical psycholinguistic inquiry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-106
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Systems Research
StatePublished - Jun 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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