Communication, Language, and Meaning: Psychological Perspectives

By George A. Miller | Go to book overview

17 LANGUAGE AND PROBABILITY

Herbert Rubenstein

If everyone knew in advance exactly what a person was going to say, he wouldn't need to say it. Communication occurs only when his message is, at least to some degree, unpredictable. When we talk about communication, therefore, we are talking about unpredictable events. The way we talk about more or less predictable events, of course, is to use the theory of probability. And that is how the theory of probability gets involved in our theories of communication.

This chapter discusses some of the probabilistic aspects of linguistic communication. In particular, it reviews some of the psychological research on language that was stimulated during the 1950s by the realization that linguistic communication really is a probabilistic affair. I will point out some of the reasons people became dissatisfied with this line of research. And I will suggest another way to look at the relation between language and probability -- a way that fits better with what we now know about how people produce and interpret linguistic messages.

Much of the psychological research on language during the 1950s was stimulated by the ideas of a man who was neither a psychologist nor a linguist, but a communications engineer -- Claude Shannon. In his famous monograph, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, which appeared in 1948, Shannon

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Communication, Language, and Meaning: Psychological Perspectives
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • The Authors v
  • Preface ix
  • Contents xiii
  • 1: Psychology and Communication 3
  • 2: Psychology and the Theory of Language 13
  • 3: The Realm of Syntax 23
  • 4: The Realm of Meaning 36
  • 5: Biological Aspects of Language 49
  • 6: The Brain and Language 61
  • 7: Speech Development and Bird Song: Are There Any Parallels? 73
  • 8: Primate Communication 84
  • 9: Teaching Apes to Communicate 95
  • 10: The Development of Language in Children 107
  • 11 - Learning to Read 117
  • 12: The Speech Code 128
  • 13: Artificial Speech 141
  • 14: Language and Perception 149
  • 15: Language and Memory 159
  • 16: Language and Thought 172
  • 17: Language and Probability 185
  • 18: Communication and Computers 196
  • 19: Communication in Small Groups 208
  • 20: Mass Communication 219
  • 21: Nonverbal Communication 231
  • 22: Persuasion 242
  • 23: Language and Psychopathology 256
  • 24: The Sociology of Language 268
  • 25: Translation and Bilingualism 280
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 291
  • Index 299
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