Pragmatic Inference of Intended Referents from Binomial Word Order

AbstractHow does listeners' perceptual bias influence their interpretation of an ambiguous multiword utterance? We address this question by investigating the relationship between word order in a binomial (an expression of type "A and B") and visual properties of image pairs serving as its potential referents. We found that listeners' choices were strongly influenced by iconicity and relative salience of images within the pair: participants preferred referents where the first mentioned image was located on the left, as well as pairs where the first image was larger than the second image. The effect of image order tended to be stronger than the influence of image size, and both were modulated by participants' general visual field preferences (determined in a separate experimental condition). We further show that binomial phrase interpretation can be simulated by a Rational Speech Act model that includes both word order effects and utterance-independent preferences of the participants.

Return to previous page