Audience Design in Meaning and Reference

Clark, H. H. and Murphy, G. L. (1982). Language and Comprehension, chapter Audience Design in Meaning and Reference, pages 287–299. North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, The Nederlands.


The speaker’s goal is to be understood. Clark and Murphy define audience design as the attitute a speaker has in tailoring the spoken utterances for particular listeners, whith whom the speaker shares momentary thoughts and beliefs. In this article, Clark also defines how references in conversations are dynamic. Also audience design presupposes design assumptions: a listener cannot identify the referent without making essential use of the design assumption.

To decode the utterance, the listeners apply specific heuristics, which are based on the shared context: community membership, physical co-presence or linguistic co-presence.

We argue that the speaker designs each utterance for specific listeners, and they, make essential use of this fact in unserstanding the utterance. We call this property of utterances audience design. Often listeners can come to a unique interpretation for an utterance only if they assume that the speaker desined it hust so that they could come to that interpretation uniquely. We illustrate reasoning from audience design in the understanding of defenitive reference, anaphora, and word meaning, and we offer evidence that listeners actually reason this way. We conclude that audience design must play a central role in any adequate theory of understanding.


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