Shifting ground: A definite deficit in adult article production

Lara HochsteinUCSD
David BarnerUCSD

Abstract

Interlocutors are typically thought to keep track of information that is shared between speaker and listener (i.e., common ground) and information that is available only to the speaker (i.e., privileged ground). In this study, we investigated whether speakers take their interlocutor’s knowledge into account when choosing between definite articles (e.g., the) and indefinite articles (e.g., a) in the context of object reference. In Experiment 1, we found that a surprisingly high number of subjects inappropriately use the definite article to refer to objects in privileged ground, suggesting that considering interlocutors’ mental states during language production is effortful and does not always come naturally. In Experiments 2-6, we explored various factors that influence whether or not speakers accommodate the knowledge states of interlocutors.

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