Learning from speaker word choice by assuming adjectives are informative


Pragmatic abilities are not only a component of efficient communication; they can also be an important learning mechanism for young children. We discuss four experiments and a corpus analysis to investigate whether children and adults can infer information about a speaker’s knowledge based on the choice of an adjective. In Experiments 1 – 3, we found that adults are sensitive to adjective use as an indicator of intended con- trast dimension (e.g. that people say “red” if an object could have been blue, but “tall” if it could have been short). In Experiment 4, we found developmental differences between older and younger 4-year-olds: older children were above chance at selecting the referential dimension of interest, while younger children exhibited some contrast inference but a strong color bias. This suggests that by preschool, children are beginning to make inferences from a speaker’s word choices, but that there are differences between adjective types. We conducted an exploratory corpus analysis to investigate possible causes for this developmental difference.

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