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Keywords:

  • Reference;
  • Language production;
  • Pronoun;
  • Definite noun phrase;
  • Accessibility;
  • Discourse;
  • Common ground;
  • Audience design

Abstract

We report two experiments that investigated the widely held assumption that speakers use the addressee’s discourse model when choosing referring expressions (e.g., Ariel, 1990; Chafe, 1994; Givón, 1983; Prince, 1985), by manipulating whether the addressee could hear the immediately preceding linguistic context. Experiment 1 showed that speakers increased pronoun use (and decreased noun phrase use) when the referent was mentioned in the immediately preceding sentence compared to when it was not, even though the addressee did not hear the preceding sentence, indicating that speakers used their own, privileged discourse model when choosing referring expressions. The same pattern of results was found in Experiment 2. Speakers produced more pronouns when the immediately preceding sentence mentioned the referent than when it mentioned a referential competitor, regardless of whether the sentence was shared with their addressee. Thus, we conclude that choice of referring expression is determined by the referent’s accessibility in the speaker’s own discourse model rather than the addressee’s.