Pressure to communicate across knowledge asymmetries leads to pedagogically supportive language input

AbstractChildren do not learn language from passive observation of the world, but from interaction with caregivers who want to communicate with them. These communicative exchanges are structured in ways that support language learning. We argue that pedagogically supportive structure can result from pressure to communicate successfully with a linguistically immature partner. We first characterize one kind of pedagogically supportive structure in a corpus analysis: caregivers provide more information-rich referential communication, using both gesture and speech to refer to an object, when that object is rare and their child is young. Then, in an MTurk iterated reference game experiment, we show that this behavior arises from pressure to communicate with a less knowledgeable partner. Lastly, we show that our experimental data is explained by a rational planning model, without a teaching goal. Caregivers’ desire to communicate successfully may play a powerful role in structuring children’s input to support language learning.

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