Seminar on Salience and Predictability: Attention, Accessibility and Surprisal (Uni Saarland, WS 2015/16)

credits: Escher

A seminar for B.Sc. / M.Sc. Students at the Universität des Saarlandes (Computational Linguistics and Psychology) - WS 2015/16, co-taught with Vera Demberg.

This course focused on the relationship between salience and information theory. Salient, relevant stimuli capture our attention, and the notion of salience has been widely employed in linguistics (e.g. perceptual salience in the visual world, semantic-pragmatic salience of referents, acoustic salience). A different line of research accounts for language comprehension using information-theoretic notions, such as predictability and surprisal. Salience accounts and surprisal accounts focus on different aspects of comprehension. Surprisal accounts focus on the comprehender’s expectations about what will follow next: high prediction error is associated with high cognitive load. Salience accounts on the other hand are concerned with the comprehender’s attention, goal and situation.

We reviewed recent literature from linguistics and cognitive science on these issues and discussed if we can capture salience effects resorting only to the notion of predictability, if attention can be reduce to prediction, and how the two are related. The course was open to students with background in linguistics as well as students with background in psychology. The intention was for students to profit from the diversity of backgrounds and knowledge, through active discussion following the paper presentations.

Alessandra Zarcone
Alessandra Zarcone
Professor of Language Technologies and Cognitive Assistants

Computational linguist with a background in NLP and in psycholinguistics, working on AI, NLP and human-machine interaction.