Rational redundancy in situated communication
Saarland University, Saarbrücken, 2020.
Contrary to the Gricean maxims of Quantity (Grice, 1975), it has been repeatedly shown that speakers often include redundant information in their utterances (over- specifications). Previous research on referential communication has long debated whether this redundancy is the result of speaker-internal or addressee-oriented processes, while it is also unclear whether referential redundancy hinders or facilitates comprehension. We present a bounded-rational account of referential redundancy, according to which any word in an utterance, even if it is redundant, can be beneficial to comprehension, to the extent that it facilitates the reduction of listeners’ uncertainty regarding the target referent in a co-present visual scene. Information-theoretic metrics, such as Shannon’s entropy (Shannon, 1948), were employed in order to quantify this uncertainty in bits of information, and gain an estimate of the cognitive effort related to referential processing. Under this account, speakers may, therefore, utilise redundant adjectives in order to reduce the visually-determined entropy (and thereby their listeners’ cognitive effort) more uniformly across their utterances. In a series of experiments, we examined both the comprehension and the production of over-specifications in complex visual contexts. Our findings are in line with the bounded-rational account. Specifically, we present evidence that: (a) in view of complex visual scenes, listeners’ processing and identification of the target referent may be facilitated by the use of redundant adjectives, as well as by a more uniform reduction of uncertainty across the utterance, and (b) that, while both speaker-internal and addressee-oriented processes are at play in the production of over-specifications, listeners’ processing concerns may also influence the encoding of redundant adjectives, at least for some speakers, who encode redundant adjectives more frequently when these adjectives contribute to a more uniform reduction of referential entropy.