Specificity and entropy reduction in situated referential processing


In situated communication, reference to an entity in the shared visual context can be established using either an expression that conveys precise (minimally specified) or redundant (over-specified) information. There is, however, a long-lasting debate in psycholinguistics concerning whether the latter hinders referential processing. We present evidence from an eye tracking experiment recording fixations as well as the Index of Cognitive Activity – a novel measure of cognitive workload – supporting the view that over-specifications facilitate processing. We further present original evidence that, above and beyond the effect of specificity, referring expressions that uniformly reduce referential entropy also benefit processing.

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