Goergen Institute for Data Science talk
Abstract: Natural language provides people with a remarkably diverse set of strategies for communicating more than they literally say. For example, in a sentence such as "Juliet is the sun," the speaker is communicating much more than just Juliet's position in the solar system. My research aims to understand the types of knowledge and reasoning which support these pragmatic communication strategies. Towards this end, I introduce a novel modeling technique, pragmatic variable lifting, which can incorporate different types of commonsense knowledge, such as reasoning about beliefs and desires, into models of pragmatics. In this talk, I will consider case studies of several pragmatic phenomena: hyperbole, metaphor, and the interpretation of prosodic stress. Using pragmatic variable lifting, we can explain both qualitative aspects of these phenomena, as well as quantitative judgments in experimental tasks. The results demonstrate the power of pragmatic reasoning, and the potential for computational models of pragmatics to illuminate linguistic phenomena.
Bio: Leon Bergen is a postdoctoral researcher in the Computation & Cognition Lab at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. from the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT in 2015, and his B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Swarthmore College in 2009. His research focuses on computational modeling of language understanding, particularly in semantics and pragmatics. He received NDSEG and NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, and a best paper award for Computational Modeling of Language from the Cognitive Science Society.