Designing Referential Descriptions for Children, Young Adults, and Computers: A Comprehensive Examination of Talker Informativity

AbstractResearch on referential communication has explored talkers’ ability to tailor descriptions for the current context. The present study examines this issue alongside talker adaptations for different addressees. Participants were asked to provide a child, adult, or computer with instructions to select and move objects on a display. Each target object was either unique or accompanied by a same-category competitor. Targets in the latter condition could be differentiated with either a modifier or subordinate term. In addition to examining speech onset latencies, we analyzed referential descriptions for informational adequacy (just enough, underinformative, overinformative), noun type (basic-level or subordinate), and incidence/type of modifiers. The most noticeable effects were observed when addressing children, with participants using more basic terms and more modifiers (particularly color). These results reveal the spontaneous adaptation of referential strategies according to audience type, providing evidence for models of language in which speakers actively consider addressees' needs and cognitive abilities.

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