Cognitive Science 200: Computational and Experimental Pragmatics (Winter 2015)

1 Course information

Seminar Times Fridays 2-4:30pm
Seminar Location CSB003
Class webpage

2 Instructor information

Instructor Roger Levy (
Instructor's office AP&M Room 4220
Instructor's office hours by appointment

3 Course Description

How is it that we're able to mean so much more than the literal content of what we say? Trying to answer this question is the study of pragmatics, a field that lies at the intersection of linguistics, psychology, philosophy, and artificial intelligence. In rough strokes, there is broad agreement that the central principles leading to the richness of our utterances' understood meaning include relation with context, what alternative utterances could have been used but weren't, and social reasoning about our interlocutors based on their knowledge and goals. In the last few years there has been explosive growth in our understanding of pragmatics fueled by two key developments: new Bayesian and game-theoretic models of speakers and listeners as recursive, decision-theoretic conversational agents, and improvement in the empirical methods used to test pragmatic theories. This instantiation of COGS200 offers a unique opportunity for participating students to learn about recent developments in this area, by reading papers and attending colloquia by a series of invited speakers selected from among the leading researchers in this field.

4 Course organization

The course meets weekly Fridays 2-4:30pm. Each weekly class meeting is centered around one invited speaker. Before the class meeting, course enrollees will read the assigned papers by (or relating to) the invited speaker's research. Each class meeting will begin with the invited speaker giving a research talk open to the entire UCSD community, followed by an open question session. We then take a short break and, finally, spend the remainder of the class in a more cozy and in-depth discussion among the invited speaker and class participants, moderated by Professor Roger Levy.

5 Intended Audience

Graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and highly motivated, well-prepared undergraduates in cognitive science, linguistics, psychology, computer science, economics, and any of a number of related disciplines.

6 Syllabus (subject to modification)

Week Day Speaker Topic Required Readings Optional/other readings    
Week 1 Monday 5 Jan, 2pm Initial organizational session n/a        
Week 2 Fri 16 Jan Elsi Kaiser (University of Southern California) Using and interpreting underspecified referential forms Kaiser & Trueswell, 2008 Kaiser, 2013, and Week 6's Kehler & Rohde, 2013 for context    
Week 3 Fri 23 Jan Daniel Lassiter (Stanford University) Adjectival vagueness in a Bayesian model of interpretation Barker, 2002; Lassiter & Goodman, to appear      
Week 4 Fri 30 Jan David DeVault (Institute for Creative Technologies/University of Southern California) Incremental Speech Processing and Fluid Turn-Taking DeVault et al., 2011; DeVault et al., 2014      
Week 5 Fri 6 Feb Michael C. Frank (Stanford University) Learning and using language by reasoning about other people Frank & Goodman, 2012; Frank & Goodman, 2014      
Week 6 Fri 13 Feb Andrew Kehler (UC San Diego) A Bayesian Model of Pronoun Production and Interpretation Kehler & Rohde, 2013; Kehler & Rohde, submitted      
Week 7 Fri 20 Feb No class due to CARTA symposium on Language Evolution n/a        
Week 8 Fri 27 Feb Noah Goodman (Stanford University) Scorekeeping in an uncertain language game: vague, figurative, and otherwise weird language Kao et al., 2014; Kao & Goodman, submitted; Degen et al., submitted      
Week 9 Fri 6 Mar Christopher Potts (Stanford University) Embedded implicatures as pragmatic inferences under compositional lexical uncertainty Chierchia et al., 2012; Chemla & Spector, 2011      
Week 10 Fri 13 Mar David Barner (UC San Diego) Inside the emperor's wardrobe: On the content of pragmatic inference Barner & Bachrach 2010; Barner et al., 2011      

A more extensive bibliography for this course can be found here.

7 Requirements & grading

The requirements for participation in this seminar are that:

  • You read the required papers and, before each seminar meeting, write and handing in a brief (1/2-2 page max) squib distilling some of your reactions to the papers. Squibs are due by midnight the night before class and should be sent in PDF form to You must submit at least six total squibs over the course of the quarter.
  • You attend the Friday afternoon meetings and participate in discussions with the invited speaker.
  • At the end of the quarter you must write a 5-10 page research proposal on a topic related to the seminar.

Author: Roger Levy

Created: 2015-03-09 Mon 13:57

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