Albert Gatt

University of Malta



Reference and visual search: Some parallels, some diversions, some future directions

Many algorithms for Referring Expression Generation (REG) model content determination as a search process. VIewed as possible process models of human conceptualisation, these algorithms make a number of predictions about the conditions under which we would expect conceptualisation to incur more processing effort, as reflected, for example, in the time it takes to plan a description. These predictions turn out to have interesting parallels in a large body of literature on visual search and attention.

This talk will report on some recent experiments that sought to test these predictions. In particular, it turns out that certain properties of referents, which are known from the production literature to be relatively `cheap' or easy to use, are also properties that require very little search effort for the speaker. Other properties, as well as property combinations, appear to bear the signature of `serial' search processes.

While these results shed light on the validity of the predictions made by REG algorithms, they also suggest that certain aspects of the reference production process, such as the apparent preference for certain properties exhibited by speakers, can be ultimately explained on the basis of mechanisms underlying visual salience and attention. This talk will discuss some ways in which results in human and computer vision could inform future research directions on reference production and generation.


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Albert Gatt is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta. He is also a Research Associate at the Tilburg Center for Communication and Cognition, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. His main research interests are in the production and generation of language, by humans and machines.