Talking about Relations: Factors Influencing the Production of Relational Descriptions

Adriana-Alexandra Baltaretu, Emiel Krahmer, Carel van Wijk, Alfons Maes

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In a production experiment (Experiment 1) and an acceptability rating one (Experiment 2), we assessed two factors, spatial position and salience, which may influence the production of relational descriptions (such as “the ball between the man and the drawer”). In Experiment 1, speakers were asked to refer unambiguously to a target object (a ball). In Experiment 1a, we addressed the role of spatial position, more specifically if speakers mention the entity positioned leftmost in the scene as (first) relatum. The results showed a small preference to start with the left entity, which leaves room for other factors that could influence spatial reference. Thus, in the following studies, we varied salience systematically, by making one of the relatum candidates animate (Experiment 1b), and by adding attention capture cues, first subliminally by priming one relatum candidate with a flash (Experiment 1c), then explicitly by using salient colors for objects (Experiment 1d). Results indicate that spatial position played a dominant role. Entities on the left were mentioned more often as (first) relatum than those on the right (Experiments 1a–d). Animacy affected reference production in one out of three studies (in Experiment 1d). When salience was manipulated by priming visual attention or by using salient colors, there were no significant effects (Experiments 1c, d). In the acceptability rating study (Experiment 2), participants expressed their preference for specific relata, by ranking descriptions on the basis of how good they thought the descriptions fitted the scene. Results show that participants preferred most the description that had an animate entity as the first mentioned relatum. The relevance of these results for models of reference production is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue number00103
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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