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Language is a collaborative act

Trainee Achievements

Language is a collaborative act

Language is a collaborative act: to communicate, speakers must generate semantically valid utterances that are sensitive to the listener's knowledge state. IGERT trainee Katrina Ferrara used a game to ask whether parents' spatial descriptions are tuned to their children's spatial knowledge. Parent-child pairs (mean age 4;1) viewed identical spatial arrays on separate computer screens. Parents were asked to describe target objects so that their child could identify them. Children's knowledge of left/right was independently tested using a comprehension task. A hierarchical statistical model of the experimentally-elicited language predicted that the probability of parents using left/right was greater for children that achieved higher comprehension scores, indicating successful communicative adaptation. This result did not hold for parents of children with spatial impairments (Williams Syndrome), suggesting that pragmatic adjustments are particularly challenging for this group.