Alternatives and inferences in the communication of meaning

Hannah Rohde, Chigusa Kurumada

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Communicating meaning is a primary goal of everyday language use. One significant puzzle in the study of linguistic comprehension is that the meaning communicated via language often goes beyond an aggregate of word meaning; comprehenders systematically derive pragmatic—as opposed to lexicalor semantic—interpretations by leveraging their extra linguistic contextual knowledge. Key to this process is the insight that comprehenders compare what was said against what could have been said—the range of alternative messages and alternative utterances—to enrich their inferences about the speaker’s intention behind a given choice of the linguistic signal. In this article, we offer a conceptual framework for investigating the roles of alternatives and how they are used in comprehension. The case studies we present span multiple levels, with the common thread that their surface forms fail to uniquely disambiguate the underlying meaning: turn-taking, disfluencies,into national phonology, and pronoun resolution. We discuss Bayesian statistical inference as a possible computational-level approach to rationally combining assumptions about alternative forms and alternative meanings for pragmatic comprehension.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Topics in Language
Subtitle of host publicationPsychology of Learning and Motivation - Advances in Research and Theory
EditorsKara D. Federmeier, Duane G. Watson
Number of pages47
ISBN (Print)9780128150863
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NamePsychology of Learning and Motivation
ISSN (Print)0079-7421


  • language production
  • language comprehension
  • alternatives
  • pauses
  • disfluency
  • intonation
  • coreference
  • implicit causality
  • Bayesian statistics


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