Leibniz MMS Days 2024 - Abstract

Mühlenbernd, Roland

Modeling pragmatic choices and their social meanings: A case study of (im)precision

We present a probabilistic game-theoretical framework that models the choices speakers make between linguistic alternatives and the inferences that hearers draw on the basis of these choices. The empirical domain we investigate is the choice of the level of precision at which numerical information is communicated (e.g. reporting a time as 7:58 or around 8 o?clock). The model predicts how such choices i) vary across situations, and ii) influence the way the audience/hearer evaluates the speaker with respect to social features (aka social meaning). We collected empirical data from a production experiment in which participants report the time of an event in different situations and show that the model can predict situational variation by a tradeoff between different speaker goals. We also collected data from a Matched Guise study about how speakers are evaluated wrt their choices across different situations, and show that the model predicts the empirical data best when the inferred social meaning is correlated with particular pragmatic choice motives.