How do violations of Gricean maxims affect reading?

Kumiko Fukumura (Lead / Corresponding author), Roger P. G. van-Gompel

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Four eye-tracking experiments examined how violations of the Gricean maxim of quantity affect reading. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that first-pass reading times for size-modified definite nouns (the small towel) were longer when the modifier was redundant, as the context contained one rather than two possible referents, whereas first-pass times for bare nouns (the towel) were unaffected by
whether the context contained multiple referents that resulted in ambiguity. Experiment 3 showed that unlike redundant size modifiers, redundant color modifiers did not increase first-pass times. Experiment 4 confirmed this finding, demonstrating that the effect of redundancy was dependent on the meaning of the modifier. We propose that initial referential processing is led by the lexicosemantic representation of the referring expression rather than Gricean expectations about optimal informativeness: Redundancy of a size-modifier immediately disrupts comprehension because the processor fails to activate the referential contrast implied by the meaning of the modifier, whereas referential ambiguity has no immediate effect, as it allows the activation of at least one semanticallycompatible referent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Early online date14 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • ambiguity
  • redundancy
  • overspecification
  • Gricean maxims
  • reading
  • discourse


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