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Rational ways of speaking

Dr. Herb Clark

Tuesday, January 27, 2009, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Psychology Department, Stanford University

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Spontaneous conversation is far from the ideal characterized in standard theories of grammar, speech acts, and pragmatics. In speaking, people hesitate, add fillers such as uh and um, repeat words, redo phrases, and abandon phrases, all in great numbers. In listening, people nod and say uh-huh and instigate extra measures to deal with things they have misheard or misunderstood. Traditionally, these behaviors have been viewed as aberrations, as things that people shouldn't have done. But are these behaviors irrational? Traditional theories would say yes. But traditional theories also assume that people using language have omniscient rationality. What if people's rationality is bounded by limited knowledge and processing capacity? Then, I argue, the answer is no. I will lay out a model of practical language use based on bounded rationality and show how it accounts for many of these "aberrant" behaviors.

Dr. Herb Clark