Research Topic

Models of Reference

About this Research Topic

This Research Topic concerns psychological and computational models of reference. Reference is a key phenomenon in human communication, which anchors utterances to the world. Reference, often achieved by referring expressions (‘this topic”, “it”, “the chair in front of you”), is studied throughout Cognitive ...

This Research Topic concerns psychological and computational models of reference. Reference is a key phenomenon in human communication, which anchors utterances to the world. Reference, often achieved by referring expressions (‘this topic”, “it”, “the chair in front of you”), is studied throughout Cognitive Science and Linguistics

The importance of this Topic has been acknowledged through the award of recent projects, such as NWO-VICI “Bridging the gap between psycholinguistics and computational linguistics: The case of Referring Expressions” , and EPSRC-REFNET “An Interdisciplinary Network Focussing on Reference”. It has been the topic of three workshops associated with the Annual Cognitive Science conference, PRE-CogSci 2009, 2011, 2013 and of Special Issues in Topics in Cognitive Science (2012) and Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience (2014) as well as The RefNet Summer School and Workshop in Edinburgh (August 2014). 

This Topic welcomes contributions on debates in the study of reference which have a wide significance. Examples include:


Debate 1: Theory of Mind use. A long tradition in psycholinguistics emphasises that communication relies on shared knowledge between speaker and hearer. Recent studies, however, cast doubts on people’s ability to use “theory of mind” in many situations. Reference is the key battleground in this debate. 

Debate 2: Rationality. Rationality is central to many (e.g., Gricean and Game Theoretic) models of human behaviour. However, models based on rationality struggle to account for certain types of referential overspecification, which instead suggest “fast heuristics” in the style of Kahneman & Tversky.
Debate 3: Variation. Language production shows substantial differences, both between and within speakers. There is, however, no agreement yet as to how variation should be modelled.

In general, contributions are encouraged that focus on novel psychological and computational approaches to the comprehension and production of referring expressions. 

Potantial topics include, but are not limited to:
• Models of referential collaboration in dialogue, including alignment

• References to times, events, and other “non-standard” types of reference

• Reference using logically complex expressions (e.g., quantified or relational descriptions)

• “Theory of mind” use in reference by children and people with autism 

• Reference under uncertainty over hearers’ knowledge

• Development of reference
• Reference and the brain

• Social and contextual effects on reference production and comprehension
• Referential over- and underspecification
• Realisation of referring expressions (e.g., including prosody, gesture)
• The role of visual scene perception


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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