Testing a rational account of pragmatic reasoning: The case of spatial language

Alexandra CarstensenUniversity of California, Berkeley
Elizabeth KonUniversity of California, Berkeley
Terry RegierUniversity of California, Berkeley

Abstract

How do people recover precise meanings from ambiguous utterances? Frank and Goodman (2012) proposed that listeners do this by rationally combining evidence about word meaning and the salience of particular objects in context. They found that a Bayesian model based on this idea provided a near-perfect account of their empirical data. However, their test of the model was based on communication about simple geometrical objects that varied along only three dimensions. Here, we ask whether their proposal extends to the richer and more complex domain of spatial relations. We find that it does. While the results are not as strong as in their original study, they nonetheless demonstrate that simple formal accounts of communication may capture important aspects of pragmatic inference.

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Testing a rational account of pragmatic reasoning: The case of spatial language (3.0 MB)



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