Wed February 1st 2023, 3:45 - 5:00pm
Room 041, Building 420, followed by a reception in the Psychology Lounge

Richard Futrell, Associate Professor, UC Irvine Department of Language Science

Title: Information and Prediction in Language Comprehension and Production

Abstract: I argue that the major properties of online language processing—both on the side of comprehension and the side of production—can be understood information-theoretically, in terms of maximizing information transfer subject to cognitive constraints. On the comprehension side, I present a computational model where an informational bottleneck on memory gives rise to dependency locality effects and detailed cross-linguistic patterns of structural forgetting. On the production side, I apply rate-distortion theory to develop a model of sentence production where words are selected incrementally to maximize communicative reward subject to a channel capacity constraint on cognitive control. I show that this model directly predicts well-documented effects of predictability, semantic interference, and lexical accessibility in language production, while giving an intuitive account of filled pauses and false starts. Both the comprehension and production models lead to a view where statistical prediction, as performed by large language models, is a key part of how language is processed.