LEC talk Thursday 14 January: Judith Degen

By jon | January 6, 2016


Thursday 14 January, 11:00–12:30
Lecture Theatre 3, 7 Bristo Square

Judith Degen, Department of Psychology, Stanford University

Context in pragmatic inference

In the face of underspecified utterances, listeners routinely and without much apparent effort make the right kinds of pragmatic inferences about a speaker’s intended meaning. I will present a series of studies investigating the processing of one type of inference – scalar implicature – as a way of addressing how listeners perform this remarkable feat. In particular, I will explore the role of context in the processing of scalar implicatures from “some” to “not all”. Contrary to the widely held assumption that scalar implicatures are highly regularized, frequent, and relatively context-independent, I will argue that they are in fact relatively infrequent and highly context-dependent; both the robustness and the speed with which scalar implicatures from “some” to “not all” are computed are modulated by the probabilistic support that the implicature receives from multiple contextual cues. I will present evidence that scalar implicatures are especially sensitive to the naturalness or expectedness of both scalar and non-scalar alternative utterances the speaker could have produced, but didn’t. In this context I will present a novel probabilistic and contextualist account of scalar implicature processing that has roots in both constraint-based and information-theoretic accounts of language processing and that provides a unified explanation for a) the varying robustness of scalar implicatures across different contexts, b) the varying speed of scalar implicatures across different contexts, and c) the speed and efficiency of communication.