Referential pacts in child language development

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Referential pacts are temporary conventions created by interlocutors for the duration of a conversation. They occur when a speaker somewhat arbitrarily chooses between multiple possible referring expressions (e.g., saying <i>&#8220;the spotty dog&#8221;</i> rather than <i>&#8220;the muddy dog&#8221;</i> for a dog that is both spotty and muddy). A listener will expect the speaker to be consistent in this choice of expression from then on, but would not necessarily expect a new conversational partner to make the same choice. We review the adult psycholinguistic literature on referential pacts and present evidence from children. We consider pacts as a prime example of the Principles of Contrast and Convention and suggest further research is warranted into the origin of these assumptions about language use.


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