Wonky worlds: Listeners revise world knowledge when utterances are odd


World knowledge enters into pragmatic utterance interpretation in complex ways, and may be defeasible in light of speakers’ utterances. Yet there is to date a surprising lack of systematic investigation into the role of world knowledge in pragmatic inference. In this paper, we show that a state-of-the-art model of pragmatic interpretation greatly overestimates the influence of world knowledge on the interpretation of utterances like "Some of the marbles sank". We extend the model to capture the idea that the listener is uncertain about the background knowledge the speaker is bringing to the conversation. This extension greatly improves model predictions of listeners’ interpretation and also makes good qualitative predictions about listeners’ judgments of how ‘normal’ the world is in light of a speaker’s statement. Theoretical and methodological implications are discussed.

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