Nonliteral understanding of number words
Author(s)Bergen, Leon; Kao, Justine T.; Wu, Jean Y.; Goodman, Noah D.
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One of the most puzzling and important facts about communication is that people do not always mean what they say; speakers often use imprecise, exaggerated, or otherwise literally false descriptions to communicate experiences and attitudes. Here, we focus on the nonliteral interpretation of number words, in particular hyperbole (interpreting unlikely numbers as exaggerated and conveying affect) and pragmatic halo (interpreting round numbers imprecisely). We provide a computational model of number interpretation as social inference regarding the communicative goal, meaning, and affective subtext of an utterance. We show that our model predicts humans’ interpretation of number words with high accuracy. Our model is the first to our knowledge to incorporate principles of communication and empirically measured background knowledge to quantitatively predict hyperbolic and pragmatic halo effects in number interpretation. This modeling framework provides a unified approach to nonliteral language understanding more generally.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
Kao, J. T., J. Y. Wu, L. Bergen, and N. D. Goodman. “Nonliteral Understanding of Number Words.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 33 (August 4, 2014): 12002–12007. © 2014 National Academy of Sciences
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