Beyond common and privileged: Gradient representations of common ground in real-time language use

Sarah Brown-Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present research tested the hypothesis that on-line language processing is guided by gradient representations of linguistic common ground that reflect details of how common ground was established, including the discourse context and partner feedback. This hypothesis was contrasted with a simpler hypothesis that interpretation processes are only sensitive to simple binary representations of whether a potential discourse referent is or is not common ground. In order to evaluate these hypotheses, participants engaged in a task-based conversation with an experimenter in which some of the participant's game-pieces were hidden from the experimenter. On critical trials, the participant revealed the identity of the hidden game-pieces. Critical utterances contained referring expressions temporarily ambiguous between a visually shared game-piece, and a hidden game-piece. Analysis of participant eye movements during interpretation of these utterances revealed that participants were more likely to consider the hidden game-piece a potential referent if the experimenter had initially asked about its identity; whether the experimenter provided clear feedback that s/he understood its identity modulated this effect somewhat. These results provide key evidence for the richness of common ground representations, and are discussed in terms of the implications for models of the underlying representations of common ground.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-89
Number of pages28
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Common ground
  • Eye tracking
  • Grounding
  • Reference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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