Rational Redundancy in Referring Expressions: Evidence from Event-related Potentials

Tourtouri, E. N., Delogu, F., & Crocker, M. W. (2021). Rational Redundancy in Referring Expressions: Evidence from Event-related Potentials. Cognitive Science, 45(12): e13071. doi:10.1111/cogs.13071.
In referential communication, Grice's Maxim of Quantity is thought to imply that utterances conveying unnecessary information should incur comprehension difficulties. There is, however, considerable evidence that speakers frequently encode redundant information in their referring expressions, raising the question as to whether such overspecifications hinder listeners' processing. Evidence from previous work is inconclusive, and mostly comes from offline studies. In this article, we present two event-related potential (ERP) experiments, investigating the real-time comprehension of referring expressions that contain redundant adjectives in complex visual contexts. Our findings provide support for both Gricean and bounded-rational accounts. We argue that these seemingly incompatible results can be reconciled if common ground is taken into account. We propose a bounded-rational account of overspecification, according to which even redundant words can be beneficial to comprehension to the extent that they facilitate the reduction of listeners' uncertainty regarding the target referent.
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