Li, Muqing; Venhuizen, Noortje; Jachmann, Torsten; Drenhaus, Heiner; Crocker, Matthew W.

Does informativity modulate linearization preferences in reference production? 

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 45, pp. 3028-3054, 2023.

During referential communication, speaker choices regarding the syntactic encoding of their expressions can modulate the linear ordering of the properties necessary to identify the referent. We investigated whether such syntactic choices are influenced by the informativity of these properties in a given visual context, as quantified by Referential Entropy Reduction (RER). In two experiments, a maze-based sentence completion task was used to examine whether informativity of a particular property (animal or action) influenced the decision to produce pre- versus post-nominal modifications when describing animal-performing-action referents in a visual scene. While many participants used a fixed strategy, informativity did significantly influence linearization for the remaining participants, consistent with a maximal informativity strategy in which the high RER property is be encoded first. This suggests that speakers who vary their encodings are indeed sensitive to the informativity of properties in a visual scene, preferring syntactic linearization in which informative properties appear early.