Learning and task-dependent factors affect production choices

Abstract

Production choices are driven by many factors: experience with language statistics, task-or message-specific factors and constraints on human cognition. Understanding how these constraints operate together is crucial for understanding sentence production. Speakers described human and inanimate targets (baby/vase) in scenes showing human agents acting on these targets. The task elicited relative clauses to contrast targets from competitors (“The baby/vase that the woman is carrying/that is being carried by the woman”). Participant utterances were affected by target noun animacy, and this effect persists across languages. This suggests a role for learning; a speaker’s lifetime of experience with their language, including structure alternatives afforded by each language, affects production choices. In addition to long-term learning, immediate demands affect production choices. Targets varied in visual salience, which affected structure choices. Effects are consistent with a task-dependent account of visual salience. Immediate and long-term learning motivations for these effects will be discussed.


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