UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Linguistics Seminar Talk - Ming Xiang

08 May 2024, 3:30 pm–5:30 pm

Linguistics seminar

Pragmatic reasoning and the production-comprehension relation: the case of gradable adjective interpretation.

Event Information

Open to



Alina Konradt

This is an online seminar and will take place using Zoom - please see the details below.

Zoom link: https://ucl.zoom.us/j/92545718438?pwd=R1I3UDZDRWxVL0dtYUxFanpPT292dz09

Meeting ID: 925 4571 8438

Passcode: 302101

Title: Pragmatic reasoning and the production-comprehension relation: the case of gradable adjective interpretation


There is a growing body of psycholinguistics work arguing that comprehenders are capable of integrating interlocutor-based pragmatic reasoning into sentence comprehension. Under the traditional Gricean approach and the more recently formalized bayesian version of it, a listener's interpretation of a sentence is the outcome of a recursive rational reasoning process that takes into account a speaker's intentions and their production choices in a particular communicative context. In this talk, based on three sets of experiments, I will take a critical look at the strength and limitations of this approach, focusing on the interpretation of gradable adjectives. Gradable adjectives denote properties that are relativized to contextual thresholds of application, e.g.  how long an object must be in order to count as long in a context of utterance depends on what the threshold is in that context. But thresholds are variable across contexts and adjectives, and are in general uncertain. In the first case study, using both human judgment data and computational modeling results, I will show that the optimal model performance is achieved when Bayesian pragmatic reasoning is supplemented with the traditionally assumed semantic conventions for thresholds. In the second case study, I will look at semantic adaptation of adjective meaning, demonstrating that although Bayesian update is a powerful tool to capture the adaptation behavior, the specific implementation of the update process does not necessarily need to resort to recursive pragmatic reasoning as previous accounts have assumed. Finally, in an eye-tracking study, we did not find a clear correlation between the production of the prenominal adjective modifiers and the eye-movement patterns of the referential contrast effect based on prenominal adjectival modifiers. Taken together, these case studies caution against a strong version of the pragmatic reasoning account that draws a very tight relationship between comprehension and production.

About the Speaker

Ming Xiang

at University of Chicago

More about Ming Xiang