Attention and structural choice in sentence production
The world that we perceive and describe changes constantly. If we believe our descriptions of the world to be accurate and consistent, we must assume that the content and the structure of our individual sentences accurately and consistently reflect the world’s constantly changing nature. If so, a comprehensive production system must model the sentence generation process taking into account this basic assumption: Words, their linear arrangement, and the structures they are inserted in must somehow reflect the corresponding parameters of the observed and described event. This system must include representation of salience as one integral component resulting in interplay that involves constant, regular, and automatic mappings between elements of a visual scene, their varying salience, and the structural arrangement of the sentence constituents and the grammatical relations between them. In this interplay, perceptual input contributes initially to this mapping process by providing information for further conceptual and linguistic encoding. Importantly, this information is not processed in an unconstrained fashion; instead, it is systematically filtered, selected, and relayed based on a regular interface between the aspects of attention and their corresponding counterparts in the conceptual and linguistic structures. Bottom-up and top-down features of this interface include noticeability, importance, or relevance. As a result, linguistic output reflects the event’s conceptual organization including the attentional state of the speaker in a regular way. This mapping between attentional focus and structural choice is a part of a more complex mapping mechanism that we will refer to as Cognition-Language Interface or CLI. Specifically, this Chapter will consider theoretical and empirical knowledge about the complex interplay between the speaker’s attentional state and the structural choices they make during sentence production.