Jágrová, Klára; Avgustinova, Tania; Stenger, Irina; Fischer, Andrea

Language models, surprisal and fantasy in Slavic intercomprehension

Computer Speech & Language, 2018.

In monolingual human language processing, the predictability of a word given its surrounding sentential context is crucial. With regard to receptive multilingualism, it is unclear to what extent predictability in context interplays with other linguistic factors in understanding a related but unknown language – a process called intercomprehension. We distinguish two dimensions influencing processing effort during intercomprehension: surprisal in sentential context and linguistic distance.

Based on this hypothesis, we formulate expectations regarding the difficulty of designed experimental stimuli and compare them to the results from think-aloud protocols of experiments in which Czech native speakers decode Polish sentences by agreeing on an appropriate translation. On the one hand, orthographic and lexical distances are reliable predictors of linguistic similarity. On the other hand, we obtain the predictability of words in a sentence with the help of trigram language models.

We find that linguistic distance (encoding similarity) and in-context surprisal (predictability in context) appear to be complementary, with neither factor outweighing the other, and that our distinguishing of these two measurable dimensions is helpful in understanding certain unexpected effects in human behaviour.