Continuity of Discourse Provides Information for Word Learning


Utterances that are close in time are more likely to share the same referent. A word learner who is using information about the speaker's intended referents should be able to take advantage of this continuity and learn words more efficiently by aggregating information across multiple utterances. In the current study we use corpus data to explore the continuity of reference in caregivers' speech to infants. We measure the degree of referential continuity in two corpora and then use regression modeling to test whether reference continuity is informative about speakers' referential intentions. We conclude by developing a simple discourse-continuity prior within a Bayesian model of word learning. Our results suggest that discourse continuity may be a valuable information source in early word learning.

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