Andrew Kehler, Vera Demberg
Conversational Eliciture / Do speakers produce discourse connectives rationally?
(University of California San Diego)
Whereas sentence (1a) states that the employee was fired and was embezzling money, it also strongly invites the inference that the employee was fired because of the embezzling. An analogous inference is lacking in (1b), however: one does not normally infer that the firing was caused by the employee’s hair color.
(1a) The boss fired the employee who was embezzling money.
(1b) The boss fired the employee who has red hair.
We posit that these inferences do not follow directly from the procedures that have been argued to underlie other sorts of pragmatic enrichment, such as from a violation of communicative (e.g., Gricean) norms based on principles of rationality/cooperativity (as in implicature), or the need to complete/expand a proposition so as to appropriately fix truth-conditional content (as in Bach’s impliciture). We argue instead that they follow from more basic, general cognitive strategies for building mental models of the world that draw on types of experiential knowledge and cognitive principles that are known to be used to establish the coherence of passages across clauses. We brand the phenomenon as `eliciture’, to capture the fact that a speaker, by choosing a particular form of reference, intends to elicit such inferences on the part of her hearer.
Do speakers produce discourse connectives rationally?
A number of different discourse connectives can be used to mark the same discourse relation, but it is still unclear what factors affect connective choice. A recent pragmatic account of language production and interpretation is the Rational Speech Acts theory, which predicts that speakers try to maximize the informativeness of an utterance such that the listener can interpret the intended meaning correctly. Existing prior work uses referential language games to test the rational account of speakers’ production of concrete meanings, such as identification of objects within a picture. Building on the same paradigm, we designed a novel Discourse Continuation Game to investigate speakers’ connective choice and listeners’ interpretations. Analysis of the data reveals that the processing of discourse connectives is in line with the predictions of the RSA models: Speakers pragmatically prefer a more informative connective in ambiguous context; and the listeners, emulating speakers’ reasoning, assume speakers choose a more informative connective in ambiguous context when they interpret the discourse relation. However, we found that listeners’ reasoning is less straight-forward because contextual ambiguity has weaker effects on their interpretation of relation sense.