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Striving for optimal relevance when answering questions

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When people are asked "Do you have the time?" they can answer in a variety of ways, such as "It is almost 3", "Yeah, it is quarter past two", or more precisely as in "It is now 1:43". We present the results of four experiments that examined people's real-life answers to questions about the time. Our hypothesis, following previous research findings, was that people strive to make their answers optimally relevant for the addressee, which in many cases allows people to give rounded, and not exact, time responses. Moreover, analyses of the non-numeral words, hesitations, and latencies of people's verbal responses to time questions reveal important insights into the dynamics of speaking to achieve optimal relevance. People include discourse markers, hesitation marks, like "uh" and "um", and pauses when answering time questions to maximize the cognitive effects (e.g., a rounded answer is adequate) listeners can infer while minimizing the cognitive effort required to infer these effects. This research provides new empirical evidence on how relevance considerations shape collaborative language use.

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