Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Yi Ting Huang (University of Maryland, College Park)

Title: Semantics, pragmatics, and social statistics: How to build a flexible and stable communication system in the first decade and beyond

Abstract: Traditional approaches to language distinguish between listeners’ inferences about _what_ speakers say (e.g., “She ate some of the cookies,” infer that there are leftovers) and _who_ they are (e.g., their gender, race, class, geographic origin). This division of labor is odd since listeners regularly make rapid and specific predictions about who they are talking with and leverage this to anticipate up-coming utterances. To unravel how social and cognitive processes operate in conjunction during language processing, I’ll focus on the timing of pragmatic inferences across speakers, listeners, and communicative contexts. First, I’ll show that highly conventional inferences are sensitive to meaning regularities across long-term (developmental) and short-term time scales (conversational). Next, I’ll move to the test case of verbal irony, and show that listeners generate inferences both about the truth conditions of utterances (e.g., “Well, that was a fabulous talk!,” infer that it was less than stellar), and speaker dispositions (e.g., “Ooo...that person is critical!”). Finally, I’ll preview new work that looks at how children reason about speakers’ race and dialect, and how this may affect their likelihood of generating inferences during communication. We’ll wrap up with a speculative model of how regularities within and across communicative interactions mediate relationships between social and cognitive processes, and what this reveals about learning, experience, and joint-carving mental architecture.

Contact details

Linguistic Circle committee

Nov 11 2021 -

Linguistic Circle

2021-11-11: Semantics, pragmatics, and social statistics: How to build a flexible and stable communication system in the first decade and beyond

Online via link invitation