Vogels, Jorrig; Howcroft, David M.; Demberg, Vera

Referential overspecification in response to the listener’s cognitive load

International Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Tarttu, Estonia, 2017.

According to the Uniform Information Density hypothesis (UID; Jaeger 2010, inter alia), speakers strive to distribute information equally over their utterances. They do this to avoid both peaks and troughs in information density, which may lead to processing difficulty for the listener. Several studies have shown how speakers consistently make linguistic choices that result in a more equal distribution of information (e.g., Jaeger 2010, Mahowald, Fedorenko, Piantadosi, & Gibson 2013, Piantadosi, Tily, & Gibson 2011). However, it is not clear whether speakers also adapt the information density of their utterances to the processing capacity of a specific addressee. For example, when the addressee is involved in a difficult task that is clearly reducing his cognitive capacity for processing linguistic information, will the speaker lower the overall information density of her utterances to accommodate the reduced processing capacity?