What isn’t said


“Last summer, I went to a conference in Spain.”

Technically, all you learned from that sentence is that there was a conference in Spain and that I traveled to it from some other location that isn’t Spain. That’s what the sentence literally means.

If you know that I live in Boston, you probably assumed that I flew to Spain, rather than take a boat. You’re probably confident that I didn’t use a transporter or walk on water. You probably also assumed that the conference is now over. All these things are true, but they weren’t actually in what I said.

The Communication Game

This presents a problem for understanding communication: a lot is communicated which is not said. A lot of the work I do is focused on trying to figure out what not just what a sentence means, but what is communicated by it … and that is the focus of the newest experiment on GamesWithWords.org.

In The Communication Game, you’ll read one person’s description of a situation (e.g., “Josh went to a conference in Spain”). Then, you’ll be asked to decide whether, based on that description, you think another statement is true. Some will be obviously true (“Josh went to a conference”), some probably true (“Josh went to the conference in Spain by plane”), some clearly false (“Josh went to the conference in Spain by helicopter”), and some are hard to tell (“Josh enjoyed the conference in Spain more than the conference in Boston”).

Scientifically, what we’re interested in is which questions are easier to get right than others. From that, we’ll get a sense of what people’s expectations are. Part of what makes this a game is the program keeps score, and you’ll find out at the end how well you did.

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