Talking in another person’s shoes: Incremental perspective-taking in language processing

Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Joy E. Hanna


Language use in conversation is fundamentally incremental, and is guided by the representations that interlocutors maintain of each other’s knowledge and beliefs. While there is a consensus that interlocutors represent the perspective of others, three candidate models, a Perspective-Adjustment model, an Anticipation-Integration model, and a Constraint-Based model, make conflicting predictions about the role of perspective information during on-line language processing. Here we review psycholinguistic evidence for incrementality in language processing, and the recent methodological advance that has fostered its investigation—the use of eye-tracking in the visual world paradigm. We present visual world studies of perspective-taking, and evaluate each model's account of the data. We argue for a Constraint-Based view in which perspective is one of multiple probabilistic constraints that guide language processing decisions. Addressees combine knowledge of a speaker’s perspective with rich information from the discourse context to arrive at an interpretation of what was said. Understanding how these sources of information combine to influence interpretation requires careful consideration of how perspective representations were established, and how they are relevant to the communicative context.

Full Text:


www.dialogue-and-discourse.orgISSN: 2152-9620   Journal doi: 10.5087/dad