The perceptual foundation of linguistic context

Abstract

Context plays a ubiquitous role in language processing. For the most part, work in language processing investigates the effects of context without investigating questions about what determines a context. For example, interpretation of any referential expression must take into account the notion of a referential domain. Here we investigate the influence of perceptual cues in establishing a referential domain, or linguistic context. We demonstrate that people use perceptual cues to establish a linguistic context; the influence of perceptual cues is gradient with respect to cue magnitude; and the contribution of a perceptual cue in constructing a linguistic context is not an effect of attention or salience. We provide these results as a first step toward developing a formal model for the establishment of linguistic context.


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