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Solving for interpretation: Intention and attention in discourse (talk recording available)

Dr. Craige Roberts

Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

The Ohio State University, Department of Linguistics

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A central problem in work on the semantics/pragmatics interface, as well as in natural language processing is that of presupposition recognition, including the problem of anaphora resolution. Given recent evidence that the canonical presuppositions are anaphoric (Tonhauser et al., to appear), it is anaphora (e.g., as triggered by pronouns, demonstratives, and definite descriptions), and its cousins ellipsis and domain restriction, which give us the clearest evidence about how presupposition recognition works.

Interlocutors do a remarkably rapid job of correctly recognizing intended anaphoric presuppositions. But how do they do this? To say that it is a function of contextual salience only raises the question of what it is to be salient. It has long been recognized (Grosz 1977, Terken & Hirschberg 1994) that salience isn’t just a function of recency. I argue that to the extent that recency plays a role in salience, this is not directly a function of (e.g.) limits on short-term memory, but of attention. As the pervasive phenomenon of prosodic focus in natural language suggests, attention-direction plays a central, on-going role in processing and interpretation. And attention, I will argue, is both guided and constrained by intention-recognition. Specifically, in natural language discourse it is the intentional structure of discourse interactions which crucially guides attention, in turn facilitating presupposition recognition. Further, the evidence for dynamic interaction between pragmatically-mediated intention-recognition and conventionally-driven compositional semantics argues against the classical picture of interpretation, wherein semantics precedes pragmatic enrichment.

I bring to bear a variety of psychological and psycholinguistic evidence for this perspective, and consider briefly what it tells us about natural language processing and language acquisition. I also argue that it calls for a reconsideration of Kaplan’s view of the character and role of context in interpretation, a view which, in general form, remains quite influential in philosophy.

To view a recording of this talk click here (You will need a Rutgers NetID and password)

Recommended reading:
A. Background pragmatic theory:
Roberts, Craige (1996/in press) Information Structure: Toward an integrated theory of formal pragmatics. In Jae Hak Yoon and Andreas Kathol (eds.) OSUWPL Volume 49: Papers in Semantics, 1996. The Ohio State University Department of Linguistics. In press, with a new Afterword, in Semantics and Pragmatics.
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Roberts, Craige (2004) Discourse context in dynamic interpretation. In Laurence Horn and Gregory Ward (eds.) Handbook of Contemporary Pragmatic Theory, Blackwell, pp.197-220.
Thomason, Richmond, Matthew Stone & David DeVault (2006) Enlightened Update: A Computational Architecture for Presupposition and Other Pragmatic Phenomena. Ms. U.Michigan/Rutgers U.
Tonhauser, Judith, Mandy Simons, David Beaver & Craige Roberts (2012) Towards a taxonomy of projective content. Accepted with revisions, Language.

B. Psycholinguistics and Natural Language Processing:
Bloom, Paul (2000) How Children Learn the Meanings of Words. MIT Press.
Brown-Schmidt, Susan & Tanenhaus, Michael K. (2008). Real-time investigation of referential domains in unscripted conversation: a targeted language game approach. Cognitive Science 32(4):643-684.
Chambers, C.G., Tanenhaus, M.K, Eberhard, K.M., Filip, H. & Carlson, G.N. (2002). Circumscribing referential domains in real-time sentence comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language 47, 30-49.
Frazier, Lyn & Charles Clifton, Jr. (2010) Imperfect ellipsis. Syntax 13(4):279-297.
Frazier, Lyn & Charles Clifton, Jr. (in progress) Identifying what’s under discussion: Introducing and narrowing alternatives during discourse processing. Ms. UMass/Amherst.
Gleitman, Lila R., David January, Rebecca Nappa, & John C. Trueswell (2007) On the give and take between event apprehension and utterance formulation. Journal of Memory and Language 57:544-569.
Grosz, B. J. (1977) The Representation and Use of Focus in Dialogue Understanding. Technical Report No. 151, Artificial Intelligence Center, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA.
Grosz, Barbara & Candice Sidner (1986) Attention, intentions, and the structure of discourse. Computational Linguistics 12:175-204
Hanna, Joy E. & Susan E. Brennan (2007) Speakers’ eye gaze disambiguates referring expressions early during face-to-face conversation. Journal of Memory and Language 57:596-615.
Hanna, Joy E. & Michael K. Tanenhaus (2004) Pragmatic effects on reference resolution in a collaborative task: evidence from eye movements.” Cognitive Science 28:105-115.
Rohde, Hannah & Michael C. Frank (2011) Markers of Discourse Structure in Child-Directed Speech. To appear in the proceedings of the 33rd annual conference of the cognitive science society, Boston, MA.
Rohde, Hannah, Andrew Kehler & Jeffrey L. Elman (2006) Event structure and discourse coherence biases in pronoun interpretation. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Vancouver, Canada, 697-702.
Speer, Shari & Allison Blodgett (2006) Chapter 13: Prosody. In Matthew Traxler & Morton Ann Gernsbach (eds.) Handbook of Psycholinguistics, 2nd edition. Elsevier.
Speer, Shari & Kiwako Ito (2009) Prosody in first language acquisition. Language and Linguistics Compass 3(1):90–110.

Dr. Craige Roberts