Avgustinova, Tania

Surprisal in Intercomprehension

Slavcheva, Milena; Simov, Kiril; Osenova, Petya; Boytcheva, Svetla (Ed.): Knowledge, Language, Models, INCOMA Ltd., pp. 6-19, Shoumen, Bulgaria, 2020, ISBN 978-954-452-062-5.

A large-scale interdisciplinary research collaboration at Saarland University (Crocker et al. 2016) investigates the hypothesis that language use may be driven by the optimal utilization of the communication channel. The information-theoretic concepts of entropy (Shannon, 1949) and surprisal (Hale 2001; Levy 2008) have gained in popularity due to their potential to predict human linguistic behavior. The underlying assumption is that there is a certain total amount of information contained in a message, which is distributed over the individual units constituting it. Capturing this distribution of information is the goal of surprisal-based modeling with the intention of predicting the processing effort experienced by humans upon encountering these units. The ease of processing linguistic material is thus correlated with its contextually determined predictability, which may be appropriately indexed by Shannon’s notion of information. Multilingualism pervasiveness suggests that human language competence is used quite robustly, taking on various types of information and employing multi-source compensatory and guessing strategies. While it is not realistic to require from every single person to master several languages, it is certainly beneficial to strive and promote a significantly higher degree of receptive skills facilitating the access to other languages. Taking advantage of linguistic similarity – genetic, typological or areal – is the key to acquiring such abilities as efficiently as possible. Awareness that linguistic structures known of a specific language apply to other varieties in which similar phenomena are detectable is indeed essential