The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 4/27 - Leon Bergen

Speaker: Leon Bergen (MIT)
Time: Monday 4/27, 12-1:30
Place: 32-D808
Title: The strategic use of noise in pragmatic reasoning

We combine two recent probabilistic approaches to natural language understanding, exploring the formal pragmatics of communication on a noisy channel. We first extend a model of rational communication between a speaker and listener, to allow for the possibility that messages are corrupted by noise. A further extension of the model, which allows the speaker to intentionally reduce the noise rate on a word, is used to model prosodic emphasis. We show that the model derives several well-known interpretive effects associated with prosodic emphasis, including exhaustification, question-and-answer pairing, and the interaction between stress and focus-sensitive adverbs. We also use this model to provide a simplified semantics for even. Our results show that nominal amounts of actual noise can be leveraged for communicative purposes.