Venhuizen, Noortje; Crocker, Matthew W.; Brouwer, Harm

Expectation-based Comprehension: Modeling the interaction of world knowledge and linguistic experience

Discourse Processes, 56, pp. 229-255, 2019.

The processing difficulty of each word we encounter in a sentence is affected by both our prior linguistic experience and our general knowledge about the world. Computational models of incremental language processing have, however, been limited in accounting for the influence of world knowledge.

We develop an incremental model of language comprehension that constructs – on a word-by-word basis – rich, probabilistic situation model representations. To quantify linguistic processing effort, we adopt Surprisal Theory, which asserts that the processing difficulty incurred by a word is inversely proportional to its expectancy (Hale, 2001; Levy, 2008). In contrast with typical language model implementations of surprisal, the proposed model instantiates a novel comprehension-centric metric of surprisal that reflects the likelihood of the unfolding utterance meaning as established after processing each word. Simulations are presented that demonstrate that linguistic experience and world knowledge are integrated in the model at the level of interpretation and combine in determining online expectations.