Conversation and convention: Enduring influences on name choice for common objects

  • Malt B
  • Sloman S
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The name chosen for an object is influenced by both short-term history (e.g., speaker-addressee pacts) and long-term history (e.g., the language's naming pattern for the domain). But these influences must somehow be linked. We propose that names adopted through speaker-addressee collaboration have influences that carry beyond the original context. To test this hypothesis, we adapted the standard referential communication task. The first director of each matching session was a confederate who introduced one of two possible names for each object. The director role then rotated to naive participants. The participants later rated name preference for the introduced and alternative names for each object. They also rated object typicality or similarity to each named category. The name that was initially introduced influenced later name use and preference, even for participants who had not heard the name from the original director. Typicality and similarity showed lesser effects from the names originally introduced. Name associations built in one context appear to influence retrieval and use of names in other contexts, but they have reduced impact on nonlinguistic object knowledge. These results support the notion that stable conventions for object names within a linguistic community may arise from local interactions, and they demonstrate how different populations of speakers may come to have a shared understanding of objects' nonlinguistic properties but different naming patterns.

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  • Barbara C. Malt

  • Steven A. Sloman

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