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Not saying what's on your mind : how speakers avoid grounding references in privileged information


This dissertation consists of three studies that examine whether speakers can adjust their speech when their knowledge differs from their addressee's. In the following work, information that speakers and addressees jointly know is categorized as common ground information; information that only one person knows is categorized as privileged information. To investigate speakers' referential behavior, seven experiments employed a referential communication paradigm whereby speakers made direct reference to objects for addressees. To be maximally effective, speakers should avoid making implicit references to privileged objects when making direct references to common ground objects. However, past reports have revealed that speakers often violate this standard (Wardlow Lane & Ferreira, 2003). The three reported studies examine influences on speakers' productions to reveal the forces that compel speakers to violate this standard. Study 1 examines whether speakers can avoid making implicit references to privileged information with instruction. Results show that speakers make implicit references to privileged information more often when instructed not to, suggesting that speakers have little control over the degree to which they make such implicit references. Study 2 examines the role of salience of privileged information. In a series of experiments, speakers were forced to cope with a speaker-internal (cognitive) pressure that made privileged information salient along with a speaker-external (communicative) pressure to avoid making implicit references to privileged information. Results show that speakers are more likely to make implicit references to privileged information when that information is salient even though doing so can result in communicative failure. This suggests that speaker-internal pressures exert the greatest influence on speakers' productions even at the cost of effective communication. Study 3 examines the role of context and incentive on speakers' productions. The task was reframed as a buying-selling task. Results show that sellers made implicit references to privileged objects more often when provided with instruction and monetary incentive to avoid doing so. This suggests that grounding the task in a more practiced context and using a monetary incentive do not change speakers' productions. All three studies suggest that if speakers want to avoid mentioning something, their best tactic is to avoid thinking about it

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