Large language models and (non-)linguistic recursion

Recursion is one of the hallmarks of human language. While many design features of language have been shown to exist in animal communication systems, recursion has not. Previous research shows that GPT-4 is the first large language model (LLM) to exhibit metalinguistic abilities (Beguš, Dąbkowski, and Rhodes 2023). Here, we propose several prompt designs aimed at eliciting and analyzing recursive behavior in LLMs, both linguistic and non-linguistic. We demonstrate that when explicitly prompted, GPT-4 can both produce and analyze recursive structures. Thus, we present one of the first studies investigating whether meta-linguistic awareness of recursion – a uniquely human cognitive property – can emerge in transformers with a high number of parameters such as GPT-4.


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