Pressure to communicate across knowledge asymmetries leads to pedagogically supportive language input


Children do not learn language from passive observation of the world, but from interaction with caregivers who want to communicate with them. These communicative exchanges are structured at multiple levels in ways that support support language learning. We argue this pedagogically supportive structure can result from pressure to communicate successfully with a linguistically immature partner. We first characterize one kind of pedagogically supportive structure in a corpus analysis: caregivers provide more information-rich referential communication, using both gesture and speech to refer to a single object, when that object is rare and when their child is young. Then, in an iterated reference game experiment on Mechanical Turk (n = 480), we show how this behavior can arise from pressure to communicate successfully with a less knowledgeable partner. Lastly, we show that speaker behavior in our experiment can be explained by a rational planning model, without any explicit teaching goal. We suggest that caregivers' desire to communicate successfully may play a powerful role in structuring children’s input in order to support language learning

Proceedings of the 41th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society