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The use of visual context during the production of referring expressions

Fukumura, Kumiko and van Gompel, Roger and Pickering, Martin (2010) The use of visual context during the production of referring expressions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63 (9). 1700 - 1715. ISSN 1747-0218

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Most theories of reference assume that a referent's saliency in the linguistic context determines the choice of referring expression. However, it is less clear whether cognitive factors relating to the nonlinguistic context also have an effect. We investigated whether visual context influences the choice of a pronoun over a repeated noun phrase when speakers refer back to a referent in a preceding sentence. In Experiment 1, linguistic mention as well as visual presence of a competitor with the same gender as the referent resulted in fewer pronouns for the referent, suggesting that both linguistic and visual context determined the choice of referring expression. Experiment 2 showed that even when the competitor had a different gender from the referent, its visual presence reduced pronoun use, indicating that visual context plays a role even if the use of a pronoun is unambiguous. Thus, both linguistic and nonlinguistic information affect the choice of referring expression.