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Meaningful Games

Exploring Language with Game Theory

Robin Clark

Publication Year: 2011

An engaging introduction to the use of game theory to study lingistic meaning.

Published by: The MIT Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyirght

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

I want this book, the one you’re holding now,1 to introduce you to a way of thinking about language that I’ve found very interesting and helpful. The idea is that we use grammar strategically to signal our intended meanings. By strategically, I mean that my choices as a speaker are conditioned by the choices you as a hearer will make in interpreting what I say. ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

Throughout my career, I have had the great good fortune to be surrounded by interesting people who have constantly challenged my most fondly held opinions. It seems to me that in keeping with one of the themes of this book, real meaning emerges by being in a community. ...

I. The Social Side of Meaning

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1. Platonic Heaven

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pp. 3-20

Sometimes you are drawn to something by pure mystification. The biologist might be baffled by the emergence of life from brute matter. How could it be that a cell could support life? The neuroscientist might be dazzled by the emergence of thought and consciousness from the neurochemistry and topology of the nervous system. ...

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2. My Fall from Platonic Heaven

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pp. 21-42

The theory outlined in chapter 1, the Mentalese theory, is a formidable one. Its intellectual roots run deep. One sees it anticipated in Plato and Kant. It has absorbed ideas from the philosophy of mathematics and logic, computation theory, and artificial intelligence. ...

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3. Meaning and the Social Contract

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pp. 43-60

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, a rather irascible fellow, and they fall into a discussion of the difference between birthdays and unbirthdays. Humpty Dumpty argues that unbirthdays are clearly superior, since there are 364 days for unbirthday presents: ...

II. Games and Truth

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4. A Primer on Games

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pp. 63-124

Game theory has a dark reputation, particularly in the humanities. The central thesis of this book is that meaning arises from the rational use of language to signal messages. Game theory itself is concerned with rational decision making where the outcome of a decision depends on the behavior of other agents. ...

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5. A Game Logic for Natural Language

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pp. 125-178

Chapter 1 put forward the notion that the meaning of a sentence involves truth. We know what a sentence means because we know what the world would be like if the sentence were true. This line of thinking suggests that we need a method of working out the truth conditions of sentences, descriptions of what the world must be like if the sentence is true. ...

III. Games and the World

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6. Common Knowledge

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pp. 181-214

If I want to tell you something, I have to make decisions about how to tell it to you. In order for you to figure out what I mean, you need to have a model of what I know. Both the speaker and the hearer need to model each other’s information state. But how can this work? My model of your information should contain a model of what you think I know. ...

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7. Lexical Games

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pp. 215-244

This situation seems common enough; almost everything we say or write is ambiguous, yet we’re usually unaware of the ambiguity. It’s easy to say that the context somehow decides the ambiguity. We have the notion that we somehow use information from the context to decide what was meant by an ambiguous sentence or word. ...

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8. Two Examples: Pronouns and Politeness

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pp. 245-282

In the past few chapters I’ve laid out the essentials of game-theoretic analyses of communication, including games of partial information. Of course, actually developing analyses is a different question. It’s time to step through some problems and show how they might be analyzed using the techniques we’ve discussed. ...

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9. The Social Ecology of Meaning

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pp. 283-328

Chapter 7 presented games of partial information as a general model of communication in natural language. This class of games makes possible a very fine analysis of ambiguity and disambiguation. The context can affect the subjective estimate of probabilities, allowing one or another ambiguous form to ‘‘pop out.’’ ...


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pp. 329-332


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pp. 333-344


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pp. 345-354

E-ISBN-13: 9780262298742
E-ISBN-10: 0262298740
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262016179
Print-ISBN-10: 0262016176

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 47 B&W illus.
Publication Year: 2011