Universiteit van Amsterdam

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NWO Vidi Grant for project Robert van Rooij

NWO has awarded Robert van Rooij the prestigious VIDI subsidy for his project "The Economics of Language: Language Use and the Evolution of Linguistic Conventions". The subsidy consists of 600,000 EURO for the appointment of 1 postdoc (Van Rooij himself) and 2 PhD students. The project will run over a period of 5 years.

Abstract of the project:

With our use of language we can communicate relevant information in an efficient but still reliable way. The organizational principles of language (i.e. linguistic rules) and our ability to reason from what someone literally said to what he actually meant make this possible. The overall aim of this project is to come to a better understanding of why these reasoning principles and rules are what they are and how they are used in actual communication. The working hypotheses are (i) that for the interpretation of utterances it is crucial to think of the participants as rational agents each with their own goals, beliefs and preferences, and (ii) that the organizational principles of natural languages evolved under the pressure to make efficient and reliable communication possible between such agents. We will make use of behavioral models from economy and evolutionary principles from theoretical biology to develop a theory that can substantiate these hypotheses and that can explain specific linguistic phenomena and observed rules of interpretation. We will employ decision theory and game theory in combination with non-monotonic reasoning techniques to determine the actual interpretation of a sentence of which the meaning is underspecified by conventional linguistic rules. Evolutionary game theory and experimental techniques from artificial intelligence are used to investigate which rules of interpretation are more likely to emerge than others.

The main challenge and originality of the project is to make the insights and techniques from game theory, decision theory and artificial intelligence applicable to linguistic analysis. In this way we extend the aims and scope of the semantic and pragmatic analysis of natural language. The scientific significance of our project lies in its contribution to the interaction between linguistics, economy, biology and computer science.

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