Computational Models of Referring
To communicate, speakers need to make it clear what they are talking about. The act of referring, which anchors words to things, is a fundamental aspect of language. In this book, Kees van Deemter shows that computational models of reference offer attractive tools for capturing the complexity of referring. Indeed, the models van Deemter presents cover many issues beyond the basic idea of referring to an object, including reference to sets, approximate descriptions, descriptions produced under uncertainty concerning the hearer’s knowledge, and descriptions that aim to inform or influence the hearer.
The book, which can be read as a case study in cognitive science, draws on perspectives from across the cognitive sciences, including philosophy, experimental psychology, formal logic, and computer science. Van Deemter advocates a combination of computational modeling and careful experimentation as the preferred method for expanding these insights. He then shows this method in action, covering a range of algorithms and a variety of methods for testing them. He shows that the method allows us to model logically complicated referring expressions, and demonstrates how we can gain an understanding of reference in situations where the speaker’s knowledge is difficult to assess or where the referent resists exact definition. Finally, he proposes a program of research that addresses the open questions that remain in this area, arguing that this program can significantly enhance our understanding of human communication.