For more than three decades, research into the psycholinguistics of pronoun interpretation has argued that hearers use various interpretation ‘preferences’ or ‘strategies’ that are associated with specific linguistic properties of antecedent expressions. This focus is a departure from the type of approach outlined in Hobbs , who argues that the mechanisms supporting pronoun interpretation are driven predominantly by semantics, world knowledge and inference, with particular attention to how these are used to establish the coherence of a discourse. On the basis (...) of three new experimental studies, we evaluate a coherence-driven analysis with respect to four previously proposed interpretation biases—based on grammatical role parallelism, thematic roles, implicit causality, and subjecthood—and argue that the coherence-driven analysis can explain the underlying source of the biases and predict in what contexts evidence for each will surface. The results further suggest that pronoun interpretation is incrementally influenced by probabilistic expectations that hearers have regarding what coherence relations are likely to ensue, together with their expectations about what entities will be mentioned next, which, crucially, are conditioned on those coherence relations. (shrink)
Speakers’ perception of a visual scene influences the language they use to describe it—which objects they choose to mention and how they characterize the relationships between them. We show that visual complexity can either delay or facilitate description generation, depending on how much disambiguating information is required and how useful the scene's complexity can be in providing, for example, helpful landmarks. To do so, we measure speech onset times, eye gaze, and utterance content in a reference production experiment in which (...) the target object is either unique or non-unique in a visual scene of varying size and complexity. Speakers delay speech onset if the target object is non-unique and requires disambiguation, and we argue that this reflects the cost of deciding on a high-level strategy for describing it. The eye-tracking data demonstrate that these delays increase when speakers are able to conduct an extensive early visual search, implying that when speakers scan too little of the scene early on, they may decide to begin speaking before becoming aware that their description is underspecified. Speakers’ content choices reflect the visual makeup of the scene—the number of distractors present and the availability of useful landmarks. Our results highlight the complex role of visual perception in reference production, showing that speakers can make good use of complexity in ways that reflect their visual processing of the scene. (shrink)
Although the language we encounter is typically embedded in rich discourse contexts, many existing models of processing focus largely on phenomena that occur sentence-internally. Similarly, most work on children's language learning does not consider how information can accumulate as a discourse progresses. Research in pragmatics, however, points to ways in which each subsequent utterance provides new opportunities for listeners to infer speaker meaning. Such inferences allow the listener to build up a representation of the speakers' intended topic and more generally (...) to identify relationships, structures, and messages that extend across multiple utterances. We address this issue by analyzing a video corpus of child–caregiver interactions. We use topic continuity as an index of discourse structure, examining how caregivers introduce and discuss objects across utterances. For the analysis, utterances are grouped into topical discourse sequences using three annotation strategies: raw annotations of speakers' referents, the output of a model that groups utterances based on those annotations, and the judgments of human coders. We analyze how the lexical, syntactic, and social properties of caregiver–child interaction change over the course of a sequence of topically related utterances. Our findings suggest that many cues used to signal topicality in adult discourse are also available in child-directed speech. (shrink)
A speaker's manner of delivery of an utterance can affect a listener's pragmatic interpretation of the message. Disfluencies influence a listener's off-line assessment of whether the speaker is truthful or deceptive. Do listeners also form this assessment during the moment-by-moment processing of the linguistic message? Here we present two experiments that examined listeners’ judgments of whether a speaker was indicating the true location of the prize in a game during fluent and disfluent utterances. Participants’ eye and mouse movements were biased (...) toward the location named by the speaker during fluent utterances, whereas the opposite bias was observed during disfluent utterances. This difference emerged rapidly after the onset of the critical noun. Participants were similarly sensitive to disfluencies at the start of the utterance and in the middle. Our findings support recent research showing that listeners integrate pragmatic information alongside semantic content during the earliest moments of language processing. Unlike prior work which has focused on pragmatic effects in the interpretation of the literal message, here we highlight disfluency's role in guiding a listener to an alternative non-literal message. (shrink)
The present volume contains a collection of papers presented at the 21st annual meeting “Sinn und Bedeutung” of the Gesellschaft fur Semantik, which was held at the University of Edinburgh on September 4th–6th, 2016. The Sinn und Bedeutung conferences are one of the leading international venues for research in formal semantics.