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Probabilistic Pragmatics


Probabilistic Pragmatics

Pragmatics was once thought of as the ‘wastebasket’ of linguistics: as the caricature went, phenomena that were too complex to handle in the semantics were pushed to the mushy pragmatics, where they were dispatched with hand-wavy “just-so” stories. Recent developments in cognitive science have provided us with a new set of tools for modeling pragmatic listener behavior as social reasoning about a speaker who is assumed to have the communicative intention of informing their listener. This reasoning is formalized as probabilistic (Bayesian) inference and model predictions are tested using large-scale crowd-sourced experiments together with corpus analysis.

The course will introduce students to models of pragmatics that employ probabilistic inference to explain both utterance interpretation and production choices for a variety of phenomena: scalar implicature, ad hoc Quantity implicature, Manner implicature, gradable adjectives, and perspective-taking in the resolution of referring expressions.

Course information can be found here:

Course Status: Closed

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Course Number:


Course Session:

First two-week Session


10:30 am-12:20 pm
10:30 am-12:20 pm




Basic familiarity with logic, semantics, pragmatics, and experimental methodology; fundamental programming concepts; ideally some lambda calculus and basics of probability.