Predicting what they say

March 29, 2010, Linguistic Society of America

An Australian-American team of investigators has made novel discoveries about the human ability to predict what other people are about to say. Their findings could have significant applications for educators, speech therapists, entrepreneurs, and many others interested in communication and comprehension.

The study, "Predicting Syntax: Processing Dative Constructions in American and Australian
Varieties of English," to be published in the March 2010 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Joan Bresnan and Marilyn Ford.

Everyone is familiar with the practice of completing someone else's sentence—essentially predicting what the other person is about to say. To a remarkable degree, people are quite accurate in their ability to make these predictions, not only in terms of the basic content of the message, but also in terms of the word choices and phrasing of the sentences. This ability to effectively predict the syntax of others in context comes from our knowledge of "linguistic probability." The human capacity for determining this probability is based on our day-to-day experience of the language. The greater the amount of experience that individuals have of a language, the greater their ability to predict. This is true of different dialects within a language. For example, Australian speakers of English and American speakers of English detect slightly different patterns of phrasing and usage among their respective fellow speakers, thus enabling them to more effectively predict the syntax that will be used in a variety of contexts.

This intrinsic ability to predict based on probability has implications for . Educators engaged in foreign language instruction might effectively focus their initial efforts on the most probable sentence constructions. Entrepreneurs engaged in marketing their products or services might use the most probable phrases in preparing their advertising messages. These research findings on linguistic probability may also be helpful in making computerized language more natural. Another practical application would be in the refinement of tools used in profiling and diagnosing those with disorders. As noted by the authors in an interview, "Linguistic patterns are important in predicting comprehension. If we can make better use of these patterns to enhance comprehension, then we can improve people's ability to understand one another."

More information: A preprint version is available on line at:
http://www.lsadc.org/info/documents/2010/language/0168-0213.pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.