School of Psychology – University of Edinburgh
Recent research shows that listeners are sensitive to disfluencies in unfolding discourse, using them to modify their predictions about what will be said in real time. But what processes underlie the pragmatic interpretation of what is said? I present a series of experiments in which recorded speakers refer to visually-depicted objects, while participants‘ eye-movements are measured. The results show that disfluency robustly affects listeners‘ interpretations of what is said: They are more likely to infer that the speaker is being dishonest, or is hedging. Importantly, this happens early during the unfolding process of comprehension, suggesting that manner of speech is integral to the comprehension process. Moreover, recent evidence is consistent with the suggestion that listeners are causally interpreting the disfluencies uttered. Taken together, the evidence presented points to a highly interactive comprehension system in which listeners model the causes of the mannerisms of speech that they encounter in order to derive enriched meaning.