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LINGUIST List 23.3373

Fri Aug 10 2012

Diss: Cog Sci/ Pragmatics/ Psycholing/ Semantics/ English: Kim: 'Generating Alternatives...'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 09-Aug-2012
From: Christina Kim <ckimbcs.rochester.edu>
Subject: Generating Alternatives: Interpreting Focus in Discourse
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Institution: University of Rochester
Program: Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2012

Author: Christina S Kim

Dissertation Title: Generating Alternatives: Interpreting Focus in Discourse

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Michael K. Tanenhaus
Jeffrey T Runner
Gregory N. Carlson
Tim Florian Jaeger
Christine Gunlogson

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation investigates a class of context-dependent expressions
— focus-sensitive particles — as a way of addressing how language
users draw on contextual information to interpret expressions whose
meanings are underdetermined by their forms. While the problem of
context dependence has been widely studied, the question of precisely
what cognitive processes and representations are involved in
interpreting context-sensitive meanings online has been relatively
under-researched. The current work picks up where the work of
semanticists leaves off after defining context-invariant aspects of
meaning, trying to characterize the workings of the pragmatics as a
kind of interface between context-invariant meaning and particular
situations of language use.

By investigating the online interpretation of focus particles in spoken
language, this study tackles an additional source of indeterminacy: in
addition to semantic representations being underspecified by virtue of
being context-dependent, the forms corresponding to these
representations are indeterminate at each timepoint over the duration
of an utterance. The observation that listeners are able to fluently
interpret partial linguistic inputs given available contextual information
tells us that the information contributed by small units of linguistic input
can be used immediately by the processor, in addition to meaning
representations that specify the relation of a linguistic expression to a
complete sentential meaning.

Investigating these two forms of indeterminate meaning in tandem will
provides insights that asking these questions in isolation would not,
and ultimately allow a reformulation of the research question that cuts
up the explanatory pie in a way that departs from the classical division
of labor among grammatical competence, language (and non-linguistic)
processing, and communicative goals.

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