Learning from uncertainty: exploring and manipulating the role of uncertainty on expression production and interpretation

AbstractLinguistic devices that mark confidence (uncertainty) have been well documented (e.g., choice of modals, hedges, etc), yet there has been surprisingly little empirical work that explicitly measures how uncertainty is signaled and interpreted. We present an initial report on a project designed to investigate how interlocutors communicate uncertainty and use that information in acquiring new information and integrating interlocutor based input with their prior beliefs. Experiment 1 establishes that speakers and listeners agree on the relative degree of uncertainty for a set of phrases. Experiment 2 manipulated how likely it was that a participant would recognize an object using images that varied in recoverability, finding that recoverability mapped onto certainty. Experiment 3 used a word-learning paradigm to establish that learners take into account the certainty with which a speaker labels uses a novel word to label a novel shape.

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