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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Categorization in the Wild: Category and Feature Learning across Languages


Categories such as 'animal' or 'furniture' play a pivotal role in processing, organizing, and communicating world knowledge. Many theories and computational models of categorization exist, but evaluation has disproportionately focused on artificially simplified learning problems (e.g., by assuming a given set of relevant features or small data sets); and on English native speakers. This paper presents a large-scale computational study of category and feature learning. We approximate the learning environment with natural language text, and scale previous work in three ways: We (1) model the full complexity of the learning process, acquiring learning categories and structured features jointly; (2) study the generalizability of categorization models to five diverse languages; and (3) learn categorizations comprising hundreds of concepts and thousands of features. Our experiments show that meaningful representations emerge across languages. We further demonstrate a joint model of category and feature acquisition produces more relevant and coherent features than simpler models, suggesting it as an exploratory tool to support cross-cultural categorization studies.

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