Informativeness in language production and acquisition - Speaker: Anna Papafragou

Informativeness in language production and acquisition

Anna Papafragou

University of Pennsylvania, Department of Linguistics

Adults design utterances to match listeners’ informational needs by making both ‘generic’ adjustments (e.g., mentioning atypical more often than typical information) and ‘particular’ adjustments tailored to their specific interlocutor (e.g., including things that their addressee cannot see). For children, however, relevant evidence is mixed. I present a series of experiments investigating how generic and particular factors affect children’s and adults’ production of descriptions of dynamic events. Both adults and 4- to 5-year-olds performed generic adjustments but, unlike adults, children made listener-particular adjustments inconsistently. Furthermore, both adults’ and children’s adaptations depended on how interactive their interlocutor was. Together, these results suggest that children’s ability to adjust their speech to the common ground shared with an addressee should not be taken to reflect an “all or nothing” ability but should be conceptualized as a set of distinct cognitive abilities. For both children and adults, I sketch a multi-pronged view of common-ground adaptations that recognizes that representations of different aspects of common ground in memory might be independent from each other.