Natural language processing, pragmatics, and verbal behavior

Abstract

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is that part of Artificial Intelligence (AI) concerned with endowing computers with verbal and listener repertoires, so that people can interact with them more easily. Most attention has been given to accurately parsing and generating syntactic structures, although NLP researchers are finding ways of handling the semantic content of language as well. It is increasingly apparent that understanding the pragmatic (contextual and consequential) dimension of natural language is critical for producing effective NLP systems. While there are some techniques for applying pragmatics in computer systems, they are piecemeal, crude, and lack an integrated theoretical foundation. Unfortunately, there is little awareness that Skinner’s (1957) Verbal Behavior provides an extensive, principled pragmatic analysis of language. The implications of Skinner’s functional analysis for NLP and for verbal aspects of epistemology lead to a proposal for a “user expert” — a computer system whose area of expertise is the long-term computer user. The evolutionary nature of behavior suggests an AI technology known as genetic algorithms/programming for implementing such a system.

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Correspondence to Chris Cherpas.

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Cherpas, C. Natural language processing, pragmatics, and verbal behavior. Analysis Verbal Behav 10, 135–147 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03392880

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