DS-2009-11: Signal to Act: Game Theory in Pragmatics

DS-2009-11: Franke, Michael (2009) Signal to Act: Game Theory in Pragmatics. Doctoral thesis, University of Amsterdam.

[thumbnail of Full Text] Text (Full Text)

Download (1MB)
[thumbnail of Samenvatting] Text (Samenvatting)

Download (2kB)


This thesis offers a general game theoretic model of language use and
interpretation and applies it to linguistic pragmatics in the vein of
(Grice 1989). The model presented here ---called the IBR model---
explains pragmatic phenomena, such as conversational implicatures, as
arising from a sequence of iterated best responses: starting from the
literal, semantic meaning as a psychologically salient attractor of
attention, speaker and hearer initially compute the rational best
responses to a literal use or interpretation of expressions;
subsequently, agents continue computing best responses to best
responses, for as long as this is reasonable and their cognitive
resources permit.

This algorithmic solution procedure is simple and intuitively
appealing. But more importantly, it has a clear epistemic
interpretation as modelling so-called ``level-k thinking'' which has
gained recent popularity in behavioral game theory (see Stahl and
Wilson 1995, Ho et al. 1998, Camerer et al. 2004). Laboratory data
supports the assumption that human reasoners are cognitively biased
and possibly resource-bounded in the sense that they are susceptible
to focal framing effects and perform theory of mind reasoning to
possibly only a given depth k. Thus conceived, the IBR model formally
implements a number of empirically attested assumptions about the
cognitive architecture of human reasoners. The IBR model then
effectively provides a novel non-equilibrium solution concept as a
form of strong rationalizability (Battigalli 2006) in which these
psychological assumptions have been implemented. The thesis aims to
show how this turn towards psychological realism solves outstanding
conceptual problems with game theoretic approaches to communication
and moreover improves on predictions in linguistic applications.

Firstly, by implementing semantic meaning as a focal attractor of
attention, the IBR model singles out those strategies that conform to
our intuitions about credible communication without altogether
precluding the possibility, and even occasional optimality of lying,
misleading and distrust (see Farrell and Rabin 1996, Stalnaker
2006). Secondly, the model explicitly represents agents with absent or
only limited capacity of taking opponent behavior and reasoning into
account. This sheds light on higher-order theory of mind reasoning in
language use and especially in the pattern of acquisition of pragmatic
competence by young children (see Noveck 2001, Papafragou and Musolino
2003). An in-depth comparison of the IBR model with bidirectional
optimality theory (Blutner 2000) suggests that the former is the
better tool for modelling limitations in theory of mind reasoning in
interpretation and acquisition. Finally, the IBR model unifies and
extends a collection of recent work in game theoretic pragmatics (see
especially Benz 2005, Stalnaker 2006, Benz and van Rooij 2007, Jaeger
2007). It yields formidable predictions for, among others, complex
and nested cases of scalar implicatures, generalized M-implicatures
and free-choice readings. The model also backs up natural accounts of
conditional perfection, and unconditional readings of conditionals.

Keywords: pragmatics, game theory, conversational implicatures, iterated
best response, credibility, optimality theory, free choice disjunction,
conditional perfection, biscuit conditionals

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Report Nr: DS-2009-11
Series Name: ILLC Dissertation (DS) Series
Year: 2009
Subjects: Language
Depositing User: Dr Marco Vervoort
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2022 15:16
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/2081

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item