CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Suppose you hear someone say, "The man gave the ice cream the child." Does that sentence seem plausible? Or do you assume it is missing a word? Such as: "The man gave the ice cream to the child."
A new study by MIT researchers indicates that when we process language, we often make these kinds of mental edits. Moreover, it suggests that we seem to use specific strategies for making sense of confusing information the "noise" interfering with the signal conveyed in language, as researchers think of it.
"Even at the sentence level of language, there is a potential loss of information over a noisy channel," says Edward Gibson, a professor in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) and Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.
Gibson and two co-authors detail the strategies at work in a new paper, "Rational integration of noisy evidence and prior semantic expectations in sentence interpretation," published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"As people are perceiving language in everyday life, they're proofreading, or proof-hearing, what they're getting," says Leon Bergen, a PhD student in BCS and a co-author of the study. "What we're getting is quantitative evidence about how exactly people are doing this proofreading. It's a well-calibrated process."
The paper is based on a series of experiments the researchers conducted, using the Amazon Mechanical Turk survey system, in which subjects were presented with a series of sentences some evidently sensible, and others less so and asked to judge what those sentences meant.
A key finding is that given a sentence with only one apparent problem, people are more likely to think something is amiss than when presented with a sentence where two edits may be needed. In the latter case, people seem to assume instead that the sentence is not more thoroughly flawed, but ha
|Contact: Sarah McDonnell|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology