Is referential informativity constrained by visual, linguistic or cognitive abilities?

Project members:
Catherine Davies (University of Leeds)
Helene Kreysa (Universität Jena)

The study investigates individual differences as a potential explanatory factor for variability in levels of informativity between speakers (Davies & Katsos, 2010) in both adults and child populations. It has been suggested that children only begin to provide optimal descriptions when they have developed the cognitive resources to engage in comparison activity and to incorporate the resulting modifiers into their REs (Whitehurst, 1976; Dickson, 1982), suggesting that referring optimally is both cognitively and linguistically demanding. Further, this ability depends on speakers first noticing objects which visually contrast with the target. This eye-tracking study investigates a lack of full visual scan as a potential cause of habitual underinformativity in both adults (as an individual difference within the group) and children (either as an individual difference or as a group characteristic). Using eye movement data together with standardised measures of visual attention, language ability, and a pragmatic test of perspective-taking, the study addresses the relationship between referential informativity and visual, linguistic, and cognitive abilities.

The study is part of the project “Exploring psycholinguistic eye tracking methodologies and data analytic techniques”, a Quantitative Skills grant funded by the British Academy. More info on the scheme can be found here!