Rational Speech Act models are utterance-independent updates of world priors

A popular framework for modelling pragmatic effects is the “rational speech act” (RSA) model introduced by Frank and Goodman (2012). The idea behind RSA is that, to interpret an utterance, a rational (pragmatic) listener reasons about a speaker who chooses their utterance by reasoning about the listener, using a literal semantic model. In the present work, we take the RSA model at face value, but we reformulate it in information-theoretic terms. We find that the pragmatic listener model can be reconceived as an update of the prior over worlds that can be provided independently of the speaker’s actual utterance. This update consists in a preference for world states which are the most specific to a given utterance in the set of possible utterances given by the pragmatic context. Our reformulation allows us to deduce general properties of pragmatic reasoning problems. As an example, we show that RSA does not predict certain quantity implicatures in the presence of bell-curve priors.
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Type of Publication:
In Proceedings
Book title:
Proceedings of the 26th Workshop On the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue (DubDial)
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