Salience and pointing in multimodal reference

Piwek, Paul (2009). Salience and pointing in multimodal reference. In: Proceedings of Production of Referring Expressions: Bridging the gap between computational and empirical approaches to generating reference (PRE-CogSci 2009), 29 Jul 2009, Amsterdam.



Pointing combined with verbal referring is one of the most paradigmatic human multimodal behaviours. The aim of this paper is foundational: to uncover the central notions that are required for a computational model of human-generated multimodal referring acts. The paper draws on existing work on the generation of referring expressions and shows that in order to extend that work with pointing, the notion of salience needs to play a pivotal role. The paper investigates the role of salience in the generation of referring expressions and introduces a distinction between two opposing approaches: salience-first and salience-last accounts. The paper then argues that these differ not only in computational efficiency, as has been pointed out previously, but also lead to incompatible empirical predictions. The second half of the paper shows how a salience first account nicely meshes with a range of existing empirical findings on multimodal reference. A novel account of the circumstances under which speakers choose to point is proposed that directly links salience with pointing. Finally, a multidimensional model of salience is proposed to flesh this model out.

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