Predicting what they say

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Predicting what they say

#1  Postby RichardPrins » Mar 29, 2010 5:42 pm

Predicting what they say
An Australian-American team of investigators has made novel discoveries about the human ability to predict what other people are about to say. Their findings could have significant applications for educators, speech therapists, entrepreneurs, and many others interested in communication and comprehension.

The study, "Predicting Syntax: Processing Dative Constructions in American and Australian Varieties of English," to be published in the March 2010 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Joan Bresnan and Marilyn Ford.

Everyone is familiar with the practice of completing someone else's sentence—essentially predicting what the other person is about to say. To a remarkable degree, people are quite accurate in their ability to make these predictions, not only in terms of the basic content of the message, but also in terms of the word choices and phrasing of the sentences. This ability to effectively predict the syntax of others in context comes from our knowledge of "linguistic probability." The human capacity for determining this probability is based on our day-to-day experience of the language.

The greater the amount of experience that individuals have of a language, the greater their ability to predict. This is true of different dialects within a language. For example, Australian speakers of English and American speakers of English detect slightly different patterns of phrasing and usage among their respective fellow speakers, thus enabling them to more effectively predict the syntax that will be used in a variety of contexts.

This intrinsic ability to predict based on probability has implications for language comprehension. Educators engaged in foreign language instruction might effectively focus their initial efforts on the most probable sentence constructions. Entrepreneurs engaged in marketing their products or services might use the most probable phrases in preparing their advertising messages. These research findings on linguistic probability may also be helpful in making computerized language more natural. Another practical application would be in the refinement of tools used in profiling and diagnosing those with language disorders.

As noted by the authors in an interview, "Linguistic patterns are important in predicting comprehension. If we can make better use of these patterns to enhance comprehension, then we can improve people's ability to understand one another."

More information: A preprint version is available on line at:
http://www.lsadc.org/info/documents/201 ... 8-0213.pdf
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Re: Predicting what they say

#2  Postby William.Young » Mar 29, 2010 5:48 pm

I had an idea they were going to say that.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#3  Postby The_Metatron » Mar 29, 2010 5:50 pm

Yeah. It needs saying.

I knew you were going to say this.

edit: DAMMIT! I KNEW someone else would beat me to this.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#4  Postby alienpresence » Mar 30, 2010 2:11 am

If language is generated by a simple enough algorithm, no one as yet uncovered, then this might be a way to home in on the structure? It would be useful for AI systems and make the computer more interesting.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#5  Postby katja z » Jul 12, 2010 9:15 am

alienpresence wrote:If language is generated by a simple enough algorithm, no one as yet uncovered, then this might be a way to home in on the structure? It would be useful for AI systems and make the computer more interesting.

It's more a case of a number of predictable (because conventional) patterns that crop up in different communication circumstances (depending on geographical language variety, register, age of participants etc., down to individual idiosyncrasies). Improving on the recognition and production of those patterns would certainly be useful in a number of ways, not just for AI development, but hoping for one algorithm to explain it all does seem a bit overoptimistic.

About the OP, another level at which predicting patterns is invaluable for comprehension is the decoding of the phonetic chain. We usually "know" what we're going to hear, and so we do "hear" a word correctly even though a phoneme might have been badly articulated, or the whole word mispronounced. The same goes for reading, which is why we often don't notice typos - up to a certain point we see the word we expect to see, not its actual realisation, unless we're specifically looking for errors.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#6  Postby Rilx » Jul 12, 2010 10:48 am

I think it belonged to the basic ideas in Chomsky's generative grammar that a listener understands a sentence by producing it himself internally. Thus, the understanding comes from a pattern of thought by which the listener would himself articulate the sentence. Your comment conforms the idea; we understand our thoughts sooner than their expressions:

katja z wrote:About the OP, another level at which predicting patterns is invaluable for comprehension is the decoding of the phonetic chain. We usually "know" what we're going to hear, and so we do "hear" a word correctly even though a phoneme might have been badly articulated, or the whole word mispronounced. The same goes for reading, which is why we often don't notice typos - up to a certain point we see the word we expect to see, not its actual realisation, unless we're specifically looking for errors.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#7  Postby katja z » Jul 12, 2010 11:03 am

I'm unsure about how relevant Chomsky is to this. Let's not derail into a discussion of generative grammar as such, my point here is more that we predict the content as well as grammatical structure, and this for me has more to do with the sociolinguistic concept of speech genres and conventions.

I wouldn't quite say that "we understand our thoughts sooner than their expressions", since thoughts are, effectively, internalised "talking to yourself". In this case, I would sooner say that the listener "co-expresses" the thought along with the speaker, they just don't speak it aloud (or yes, in some cases - I tend to finish other people's sentences with them, or even instead of them, quite annoying!).

As to the passage you quoted, I should have added that as well as helping comprehension, this tendency to hear what we expect to hear can easily misfire and cause misunderstandings. On a more "macroscopic" level, this can result in a dialogue of the deaf, where people talk past each other precisely because they focus on their expectations more than on what the other person is actually saying.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#8  Postby alienpresence » Jul 12, 2010 11:13 am

katja z wrote:I'm unsure about how relevant Chomsky is to this. Let's not derail into a discussion of generative grammar as such, my point here is more that we predict the content as well as grammatical structure, and this for me has more to do with the sociolinguistic concept of speech genres and conventions.

I wouldn't quite say that "we understand our thoughts sooner than their expressions", since thoughts are, effectively, internalised "talking to yourself". In this case, I would sooner say that the listener "co-expresses" the thought along with the speaker, they just don't speak it aloud (or yes, in some cases - I tend to finish other people's sentences with them, or even instead of them, quite annoying!).

As to the passage you quoted, I should have added that as well as helping comprehension, this tendency to hear what we expect to hear can easily misfire and cause misunderstandings. On a more "macroscopic" level, this can result in a dialogue of the deaf, where people talk past each other precisely because they focus on their expectations more than on what the other person is actually saying.


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Re: Predicting what they say

#9  Postby katja z » Jul 12, 2010 11:18 am

:lol:
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Re: Predicting what they say

#10  Postby Rilx » Jul 12, 2010 1:52 pm

katja z wrote:I'm unsure about how relevant Chomsky is to this. Let's not derail into a discussion of generative grammar as such, my point here is more that we predict the content as well as grammatical structure, and this for me has more to do with the sociolinguistic concept of speech genres and conventions.

Chomsky just came to my mind because this very idea is one of the few Chomskian things I learned in 1960s and astonishingly, is still valid. While LAD and all that are gone with the wind, disciplines down to neuroscience are supporting the idea as a general mental property.

I wouldn't quite say that "we understand our thoughts sooner than their expressions", since thoughts are, effectively, internalised "talking to yourself". In this case, I would sooner say that the listener "co-expresses" the thought along with the speaker, they just don't speak it aloud (or yes, in some cases - I tend to finish other people's sentences with them, or even instead of them, quite annoying!).

IMO language - internal or external - refers to meanings and by "thoughts" I actually meant meanings. Sorry, I wasn't clear enough.
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Re: Predicting what they say

#11  Postby jaydot » Jul 17, 2010 12:48 pm

:coffee: while i sit on the sidelines and listen in. :)
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