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The distribution of word orders across languages is highly nonuniform, with subject-verb-object (SVO) and subject-object-verb (SOV) orders being prevalent. Recent work suggests that the SOV order may be the default in human language. Why, then, is SVO order so common? We hypothesize that SOV/SVO variation can be explained by language users' sensitivity to(More)
We investigate the effects of alternative utterances on pragmatic interpretation of language. We focus on two specific cases: specificity implicatures (less specific utterances imply the negation of more specific utterances) and Horn implicatures (more complex utterances are assigned to less likely meanings). We present models of these phenomena in terms of(More)
Inferring what speakers mean from what they say requires consideration of what they know. For instance, depending on the speaker's level of expertise, uttering Some squirrels hibernate can imply that not all squirrels hibernate, or it might imply the weaker proposition that the speaker does not know whether all squirrels hibernate. The present study(More)
Sentence processing theories typically assume that the input to our language processing mechanisms is an error-free sequence of words. However, this assumption is an oversimplification because noise is present in typical language use (for instance, due to a noisy environment, producer errors, or perceiver errors). A complete theory of human sentence(More)
While the ubiquity and importance of nonliteral language are clear, people’s ability to use and understand it remains a mystery. Metaphor in particular has been studied extensively across many disciplines in cognitive science. One approach focuses on the pragmatic principles that listeners utilize to infer meaning from metaphorical utterances. While this(More)
One of the most puzzling and important facts about communication is that people do not always mean what they say; speakers often use imprecise, exaggerated, or otherwise literally false descriptions to communicate experiences and attitudes. Here, we focus on the nonliteral interpretation of number words, in particular hyperbole (interpreting unlikely(More)
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. In this model, common knowledge of a noisy channel leads to(More)
Learning the preferences of other people is crucial for predicting future behavior. Both children and adults make inferences about others’ preferences from sparse data and in situations where the preferences have complex internal structures. We present a computational model of learning structured preferences which integrates Bayesian inference and(More)
Background: It has long been observed that, when confronted with an implausible sentence like The ball kicked the girl, individuals with aphasia rely more on plausibility information from world knowledge (such that a girl is likely to kick a ball, but not vice versa) than control non-impaired populations do. We here offer a novel hypothesis to explain this(More)