The overarching goal of this project is to address both the methodological and theoretical challenges in real- time language processing in order to understand how listeners coordinate linguistic and non-linguistic information as they construct interpretations. Research from this project and research from other labs has strongly established that in addition to form-based probabilistic constraints, listeners make rapid use of information provided by visual context and action-relevant affordances of objects and task goals. It is less clear whether speakers and addressees take into account their interlocutor's knowledge and commitments during the earliest moments of language processing. Modeling the knowledge states of other individuals is presumably complex and resource-intensive. Inferring and tracking the knowledge states and intentions of interlocutors is often conceived of as a task separated from core real-time language processing. In contrast, we propose that targeted and probabilistic tracking of some aspects of interlocutors'knowledge states and intentions may be an essential part of language processing itself;interlocutors, in the linguistic choices they make, may be implicitly telling other individuals about elements of their own knowledge states and intentions that are relevant to the task of carrying on the current linguistic interaction. These choices of form by the speaker, and their interpretation by the addressee, involve integrating the content of the sentence with considerations of who knows (and does not know) what, a matter that relates more directly to the conduct of the discourse than to its descriptive content. We will examine processing of linguistic devices whose function is to shape the presentation of descriptive content rather than to form a description, including sentence-type, prosody, and forms of acknowledgment. The proposed research builds on our work with definite reference and our recent success in using eye movements to study real-time language processing in collaborative tasks. We address two central questions: (1) how and when interlocutors take into account each other's likely knowledge, both shared and privileged and (2) whether, and if so, when, interlocutors signal and monitor each other's intentions in conversation. The proposed work should make important empirical and theoretical contributions;it will helping resolve existing controversies and it will break new ground. We further develop the relatively novel eye-tracking targeted language games methodology and explore optimal cue-integration models and new methods for statistical modeling of eye-tracking data. Our results and methods should continue to: (a) advance our understanding of normal language comprehension;(b) inform investigations of language processing in children and special populations, including those with impairments that arise from brain injury, and they are beginning to influence development and evaluation of dialog systems with health-related applications.

Public Health Relevance

This project examines the mechanisms that allow people to rapidly coordinate multiple sources of information in order to plan utterances as speakers and comprehend spoken language as listeners. Our results and methods continue to advance our understanding of normal language comprehension and inform investigations of language processing in children and special populations, including those with impairments that arise from brain injury. They are also beginning to influence the development and evaluation of computer-based spoken language systems are beginning to be applied to many health-related issues, including providing guidance in medical emergencies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
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Language and Communication Study Section (LCOM)
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Miller, Brett
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University of Rochester
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Degen, Judith; Tanenhaus, Michael K (2015) Processing scalar implicature: a constraint-based approach. Cogn Sci 39:667-710
Kurumada, Chigusa; Brown, Meredith; Bibyk, Sarah et al. (2014) Is it or isn't it: listeners make rapid use of prosody to infer speaker meanings. Cognition 133:335-42
Kim, Christina S; Carbary, Kathleen M; Tanenhaus, Michael K (2014) Syntactic priming without lexical overlap in reading comprehension. Lang Speech 57:181-95
Klein, Natalie M; Gegg-Harrison, Whitney M; Carlson, Greg N et al. (2013) Experimental investigations of weak definite and weak indefinite noun phrases. Cognition 128:187-213
Gorman, Kristen S; Gegg-Harrison, Whitney; Marsh, Chelsea R et al. (2013) What's learned together stays together: speakers' choice of referring expression reflects shared experience. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 39:843-53
Heller, Daphna; Gorman, Kristen S; Tanenhaus, Michael K (2012) To name or to describe: shared knowledge affects referential form. Top Cogn Sci 4:290-305
Brown, Meredith; Salverda, Anne Pier; Dilley, Laura C et al. (2011) Expectations from preceding prosody influence segmentation in online sentence processing. Psychon Bull Rev 18:1189-96
Salverda, Anne Pier; Brown, Meredith; Tanenhaus, Michael K (2011) A goal-based perspective on eye movements in visual world studies. Acta Psychol (Amst) 137:172-80
Wolter, Lynsey; Gorman, Kristen Skovbroten; Tanenhaus, Michael K (2011) Scalar reference, contrast and discourse: Separating effects of linguistic discourse from availability of the referent. J Mem Lang 65:299-317
Grodner, Daniel J; Klein, Natalie M; Carbary, Kathleen M et al. (2010) "Some," and possibly all, scalar inferences are not delayed: Evidence for immediate pragmatic enrichment. Cognition 116:42-55

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