An inference-based model of restricted context formation in spoken language comprehension

Whitney Renee Vandiver, Purdue University


Theories of semantic and pragmatic origins addressing contextual assignment commonly assemble a framework in which inferences are the consequence of a hearer’s discernment of which of multiple contexts are applicable to a given statement. However, such constructs fail to account for how discriminating restrictions are formed and their contributions to context formation. Thus, the model suggested herein asserts that context formation must be inference-based to allow a hearer to determine which restrictions must be placed on an applicable context for proper spoken language comprehension to occur and, therefore, originates inferences within the context formation process. ^ This thesis discusses the need for an inferential foundation within the spoken language comprehension process and emphasizes the need of any theory which attempts to account for context formation to first allow for inference-based restrictions to be formed by a hearer. A review of knowledge classes and their role in the inference process demonstrates how a hearer relies on her ontology and logical system to first construct the restrictions required by the world in which she experiences a statement, and an examination of the advantages provided by parametric evaluation of a statement’s proposition(s) establishes the need of a hearer to also construct restrictions on context based on the requirements of the world in which a statement is to take place. When the two assessments have been completed, a hearer may compare the two restricted worlds for the purpose of determining the possibility of their co-existence, which is the only condition for the construction of a stable context for a statement when examined within a hearer’s world. ^ In offering a model which first has the hearer restrict a contextual framework by what her world requires via the inferential system and then offering her the ability to further constrict the same framework by what a statement mandates, this thesis presents a model which is based on the inferential abilities of a hearer to form a context that is not somehow selected from among multiple possibilities but rather assembled as the result of restrictions which exist within the world of the hearer and the world of a statement.^




Victor Raskin, Purdue University, Amy Carrell, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Language, Linguistics

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