On General Language Understanding

Schlangen, David

Natural Language Processing prides itself to be an empirically-minded, if not outright empiricist field, and yet lately it seems to get itself into essentialist debates on issues of meaning and measurement (“Do Large Language Models Understand Language, And If So, How Much?”). This is not by accident: Here, as everywhere, the evidence underspecifies the understanding. As a remedy, this paper sketches the outlines of a model of understanding, which can ground questions of the adequacy of current methods of measurement of model quality. The paper makes three claims: A) That different language use situation types have different characteristics, B) That language understanding is a multifaceted phenomenon, bringing together individualistic and social processes, and C) That the choice of Understanding Indicator marks the limits of benchmarking, and the beginnings of considerations of the ethics of NLP use.

In Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023 , 2023
  title = {On General Language Understanding},
  author = {Schlangen, David},
  editor = {Bouamor, Houda and Pino, Juan and Bali, Kalika},
  booktitle = {Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2023},
  month = dec,
  year = {2023},
  address = {Singapore},
  publisher = {Association for Computational Linguistics},
  url = {https://aclanthology.org/2023.findings-emnlp.591},
  doi = {10.18653/v1/2023.findings-emnlp.591},
  pages = {8818--8825}