Grounding as a side-effect of grounding
Staffan Larsson (University of Gothenburg, SE)
In relation to semantics, “grounding” has (at least) two relevant meanings. “Symbol grounding” is the process of connecting symbols (e.g. words), to perception and the world. “Communicative grounding” is the process of interactively adding to common ground in dialogue. Strategies for grounding in human communication include, crucially, strategies for resolving troubles caused by various kinds of miscommunication.
As it happens, these two processes of grounding are closely related. As a side-effect of (communicatively) grounding an utterance, dialogue participants (DPs) may adjust the meanings they assign to linguistic expressions, in a process of semantic coordination. Meanings of at least some expressions (e.g. concrete nouns) include perceptual aspects which enable DPs to classify entities as falling under the expression or not based on their perception of those entities. By adjusting perceptual aspects of meaning in light of perceptual (e.g. visual) and linguistic input in dialogue, symbol grounding can be said to be achieved as a side-effect of communicative grounding.
This requires that perceptual aspects of meaning can be updated as a result of participating in linguistic interaction, thereby enabling fine-grained semantic coordination of perceptually grounded linguistic meanings. A formal semantics for low-level perceptual aspects of meaning is presented, tying these together with the logical-inferential aspects of meaning traditionally studied in formal semantics. The key idea is to model perceptual meanings as classifiers of perceptual input. This requires a framework where intensions are (1) represented independently of extensions, and are (2) structured objects which can be modified as a result of learning. We use Type Theory with Records (TTR), a formal semantics framework which starts from the idea that information and meaning is founded on our ability to perceive and classify the world, i.e., to perceive objects and situations as being of types. As an example of our approach, we show how a simple classifier of spatial information based on the Perceptron can be cast in TTR. We also illustrate how compositionality may work for perceptual meanings.
Larsson, S. (2013). Formal semantics for perceptual classification. Journal of logic and computation. Advance access.