Interpreting words in spatial descriptions

Daniel G. Morrow, Herbert H. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A word may have the identical conventional meaning in different descriptions and yet be taken as denoting very different things. The proposal we tested is that the denotation of such a word is what the addressee believes it must be in order to contribute to the model of the situation that the speaker intended the addressee to create. We tested this proposal on the verb approach in descriptions schematised by “Figure F is just approaching landmark L for reason R.” The distance from F to L was judged to be larger, all else being equal, the larger the landmark, the larger the figure, the faster the figure was moving, and the farther away the figure could be and still fulfil his or her purpose. We argued that these and other results about word interpretation are best accounted for by listeners creating the intended situation models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-291
Number of pages17
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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