Events Calendar
Nov 9
17:00 - 18:00
Children's Referential Informativeness
Centre for Language and Linguistic Studies Guest Lecture
Dr Cat Davies (University of Leeds)

To refer to objects, speakers must choose an expression that matches the information status of the entity the want to talk about, e.g. the apple, the big green delicious one, that, it. From the wide range of referring expressions available, children must learn to provide enough information to refer uniquely (e.g. the small apple in the presence of two apples), but not so much as to convey unnecessary or irrelevant information (e.g. the round apple where only one exists in the discourse context). As comprehenders, they must enrich such under- or over-specified forms to interpret the speaker's intention (Grice, 1975/1989; Sedivy et al., 1999; Sperber & Wilson, 1986/1995).

In this talk, I'll present a series of studies tracking children's developing sense of informativeness, as both speakers and the comprehenders. In production, we see that children mature through a stage of habitual under-informativeness on their way to becoming fully informative speakers. We'll then review findings from a study investigating whether children's eye movements can illuminate the mechanisms behind their early underinformativeness (Davies & Kreysa, 2016). Turning to the comprehension of referring expressions, I'll present some judgment data suggesting that from the age of 5 years, children can detect violations of informativeness (Davies & Katsos, 2010). This is complemented by a study in which we investigated whether 3- and 5-year-olds try to rationalise speakers' expressions and seek further information to restore the felicity of non-optimal utterances (Morisseau et al., 2013).


Davies, C. & Katsos, N. 2010. Over-informative children: production/comprehension asymmetry or tolerance to pragmatic violations? Lingua 120(8): Special Issue on Asymmetries in Child Language, pp.1956-1972.

Davies, C. & Kreysa, H. 2016. Is children's referential informativity associated with their visual or linguistic abilities? In: Fabienne Salfner and Uli Sauerland (eds.), Proceedings of 'Trends in Experimental Pragmatics',, Berlin, Germany, pp. 22–30. Available at:

Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds), Syntax and semantics, 3: Speech Acts (41-58). New York: Academic Press. Reprinted in Grice, H.P. (1989). Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 22–40.

Morisseau, T., Davies, C. & Matthews, D. 2013. How do 3- and 5-year-olds respond to over- and under-informative utterances? Journal of Pragmatics, 59(A), pp.26-39.

Sedivy, J. C., Tanenhaus, M. K., Chambers, C. G. and Carlson, G. N. (1999). Achieving incremental semantic interpretation through contextual representation. Cognition, 71(2), 109-147.

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. (1986; 1995). Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.


Lecture Theatre 2,
Rutherford College,
University of Kent,
United Kingdom


Open to all,

Contact: Dr Vikki Janke


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Last Updated: 10/01/2012