The Effect of Scene Variation on the Redundant Use of Color in Definite Reference


Correspondence should be sent to Ruud Koolen, Tilburg Center for Cognition and Communication (TiCC), Faculty of Humanities, Tilburg University, P.O. Box 90153, NL-5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. E-mail:


This study investigates to what extent the amount of variation in a visual scene causes speakers to mention the attribute color in their definite target descriptions, focusing on scenes in which this attribute is not needed for identification of the target. The results of our three experiments show that speakers are more likely to redundantly include a color attribute when the scene variation is high as compared with when this variation is low (even if this leads to overspecified descriptions). We argue that these findings are problematic for existing algorithms that aim to automatically generate psychologically realistic target descriptions, such as the Incremental Algorithm, as these algorithms make use of a fixed preference order per domain and do not take visual scene variation into account.