Redundancy and Reduction: Speakers Manage Syntactic Information Density

Cogn Psychol. 2010 Aug;61(1):23-62. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.02.002.

Abstract

A principle of efficient language production based on information theoretic considerations is proposed: Uniform Information Density predicts that language production is affected by a preference to distribute information uniformly across the linguistic signal. This prediction is tested against data from syntactic reduction. A single multilevel logit model analysis of naturally distributed data from a corpus of spontaneous speech is used to assess the effect of information density on complementizer that-mentioning, while simultaneously evaluating the predictions of several influential alternative accounts: availability, ambiguity avoidance, and dependency processing accounts. Information density emerges as an important predictor of speakers' preferences during production. As information is defined in terms of probabilities, it follows that production is probability-sensitive, in that speakers' preferences are affected by the contextual probability of syntactic structures. The merits of a corpus-based approach to the study of language production are discussed as well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Speech / physiology*