Audience design in children’s referential descriptions of abstract and concrete stimuli as a function of addressee familiarity: The boundaries of success.
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Audience design facilitates understanding by ensuring utterances are tailored to addressee needs (Clark & Murphy, 1982). The present research studied audience design in the length, hedging and article use of children’s references to abstract and concrete stimuli for addressees who were familiar or unfamiliar with conceptualisations of the stimuli, based on past interactions. It was predicted that the children would appropriately amend the informativeness of, confidence and article use in their references as a function of addressee familiarity and, where appropriate, stimulus type. The research used a modification of the standard referential communication paradigm in which 31 six and seven year-olds performed a simple card matching game by repeatedly describing abstract tangram figures and pictures of everyday objects to addressees who were increasingly familiar or unfamiliar with their previous conceptualisations. Reference length was consistent with audience design and this appeared to be more marked for tangrams than pictures. Hedging appeared to reflect uncertainty as a function of task practice rather than addressee familiarity and article use suggested potential awareness of addressee perspective but this skill was far from complete. The children appeared partially capable of audience design in this simple communication game, yet this skill appears to be multifaceted, with components that are differentially sensitive to task and speaker characteristics.