December 13: Sammie Tarenskeen (RU Nijmegen) – UiL OTS

We’re happy to announce that on Thursday, December 13, Sammie Tarenskeen (Radboud University Nijmegen) will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht entitled The whens and whys of referential overspecification. Hope to see you all there!

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2012

Time: 15:00-17:00

Location: Utrecht, Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, room 1.06 (Ravesteijnkamer)

When uttered in a context with a single toy rabbit among several other stuffed animals, the boldfaced referring expression (henceforth RE) in sentence (1) is overspecified.

(1)       Can you pass me the pink rabbit?

A substantial number of studies, conducted over the past decades, have shown that overspecified REs are way more common than had been assumed before. This assumption stems from the second Gricean maxim of quantity, which says:

(2)       Do not make your contribution more informative than is required
(for the current purposes of the exchange).

Although Gricean maxims apply to speech acts as a whole only, it seems reasonable to assume that there is a similar mechanism available which yields omission of overspecified REs such as in (1). After all, the hearer can do without the extra information and the speaker could save herself the effort of including it. Moreover, the hearer may draw inferences from the extra information, analogously to Gricean implicatures, which were not intended by the speakers. This could even lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Reasonable or not, experimental findings suggest that the Gricean-based assumption, though not downright false, is problematic: in several studies, speakers produced more overspecified than minimally specified REs. In this talk, I will give an overview of the most interesting findings from experimental production studies that have investigated the effect of certain contextual factors on referential overspecification. It will be shown that colour has a special role to play in the story. For example, colour overspecification has turned out to be far more common than overspecification of other attributes, such as size, shape, and material. Finally, I will discuss possible answers to the question why speakers produce overspecified REs and make some suggestions about what kind of answers are, in my opinion, on the right track.


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