MLC Seminar

Speaker: [Online] Milica Denić
Title: Complexity/informativeness trade-off in the domain of indefinite pronouns
Time: 16:00 - 17:30
Location: Online

This talk will be delivered in an online-only format, via the platform Zoom. To join the meeting, please click the following link:


Abstract: Vocabulary of human languages has been argued to support efficient communication by optimizing the trade-off between complexity and informativeness (Kemp & Regier, 2012). The argument has been mostly based on analyses of cross-linguistic vocabulary in semantic domains of content words such as kinship terms, color terms, number words, among others. In present work, we extend this analysis to indefinite pronouns, a domain of function words whose syntactic, semantic, and typological properties have been extensively studied by linguists (Haspelmath, 1997, a.o.). We establish the meaning space and the ‘language of thought’-like representations for indefinite pronouns, and show that indefinite pronoun systems across language optimize the complexity/informativeness trade-off. These results suggest that the need for efficient communication shapes how human languages organize not only their content words categories, but also their function words categories, thus tying in with the conclusions of recent work on quantifiers (Steinert-Threlkeld, 2019). Furthermore, we demonstrate that the trade-off may explain some of the universal properties of indefinite pronouns systems identified in (Haspelmath, 1997), thus reducing the explanatory load for linguistic theories.