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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The identity of the partner matters even when naming everyday objects


Social factors, such as partner familiarity (e.g., talking to a friend vs. stranger) may affect some conversations but not others. While researchers do not always control the partner identity when conducting interactive studies, the current empirical report of a language production experiment conducted via Zoom presents effects of partner familiarity (friends vs. strangers) on the form and content of referring expressions in the mundane task of describing everyday objects. First, speakers interacting with a friend were less disfluent than speakers interacting with a stranger, showing that more effort is invested in interactions with strangers. Second, speakers interacting with a friend showed more sensitivity to prior context. Surprisingly, these effects reveal that speakers are sensitive to the partner identity even when describing everyday objects whose labels are shared across all language users. The current findings suggest that researchers should consider social factors as part of the experimental design of interactive tasks.

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