Informational content vs. discourse orientation: experimental and computational perspectives
Keywords:semantics, pragmatics, language models, psycholinguistics, entailment, discourse semantics, natural langue inference
The aim of this study is to investigate how human speakers and computational language models process (i) the informational content and (ii) the discourse orientation of natural language sentences. These two dimensions of meaning have received little attention outside theoretical literature, especially in the computational linguistics domain. To help fill this void, we present the results of four experiments that exploit the specific semantics of two French adverbs, namely presque (≃ ’almost’) and à peine (≃ ’barely’), which put these two dimensions of meaning at odds. Each experiment focuses on one kind of population (humans or language models), and one kind of meaning (informational content or discourse orientation). Our results show that humans are indeed sensitive to informational content and discourse direction, as assumed in the theoretical literature. Language models exhibit a less transparent behavior. Their performances in dealing with the semantics of presque appear in line with predictions based on the way these models are trained, but this does not extend to à peine.