Rational over-specification in visually-situated comprehension and production

Tourtouri, E. N., Delogu, F., Sikos, L., & Crocker, M. W. (2019). Rational over-specification in visually-situated comprehension and production. Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science, 3(2), 175-202. doi:10.1007/s41809-019-00032-6.
Contrary to the Gricean maxims of quantity (Grice, in: Cole, Morgan (eds) Syntax and semantics: speech acts, vol III, pp 41–58, Academic Press, New York, 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 an information-theoretic explanation for the use of over-specification in visually-situated communication, which quantifies the amount of uncertainty regarding the referent as entropy (Shannon in Bell Syst Tech J 5:10, https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1538-7305.1948.tb01338.x, 1948). Examining both the comprehension and production of over-specifications, we present evidence that (a) listeners’ processing is facilitated by the use of redundancy as well as by a greater reduction of uncertainty early on in the utterance, and (b) that at least for some speakers, listeners’ processing concerns influence their encoding of over-specifications: Speakers were more likely to use redundant adjectives when these adjectives reduced entropy to a higher degree than adjectives necessary for target identification.
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