Comparing Models of Associative Meaning: An Empirical Investigation of Reference in Simple Language Games

by   Judy Hanwen Shen, et al.

Simple reference games are of central theoretical and empirical importance in the study of situated language use. Although language provides rich, compositional truth-conditional semantics to facilitate reference, speakers and listeners may sometimes lack the overall lexical and cognitive resources to guarantee successful reference through these means alone. However, language also has rich associational structures that can serve as a further resource for achieving successful reference. Here we investigate this use of associational information in a setting where only associational information is available: a simplified version of the popular game Codenames. Using optimal experiment design techniques, we compare a range of models varying in the type of associative information deployed and in level of pragmatic sophistication against human behavior. In this setting, we find that listeners' behavior reflects direct bigram collocational associations more strongly than word-embedding or semantic knowledge graph-based associations and that there is little evidence for pragmatically sophisticated behavior by either speakers or listeners of the type that might be predicted by recursive-reasoning models such as the Rational Speech Acts theory. These results shed light on the nature of the lexical resources that speakers and listeners can bring to bear in achieving reference through associative meaning alone.


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