New research looks at how language is used to convey information in context, something which is, according to its abstract “one of the most astonishing features of human language”. Apparently there have been “many” theories providing “informal accounts of communicative inference” but few have succeeded in making “precise, quantitative predictions about pragmatic reasoning”.
This research, by Michael C. Frank and Noah D. Goodman,
examined judgments about simple referential communication games, modeling behavior in these games by assuming that speakers attempt to be informative and that listeners use Bayesian inference to recover speakers’ intended referents.
The result gave “a close, parameter-free fit to human judgments, suggesting that the use of information-theoretic tools to predict pragmatic reasoning may lead to more effective formal models of communication”.
An accompanying press release says that computers aren’t very good at how language is used in social situations and this research “has taken the first steps toward changing that”. As well as better language processing, the press release claims that the research could help treat people with language disorders.
Press release: Stanford psychologists aim to help computers understand you better.
Paper: Predicting Pragmatic Reasoning in Language Games.