Speakers' experiences and audience design: Knowing when and knowing how to adjust utterances to addressees

William S. Horton*, Richard J. Gerrig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


In this paper, we develop an account of the types of experiences through which speakers learn to design their utterances for particular addressees. We argue that there are two important aspects of conversational situations relevant to considerations of audience design. First, speakers must become aware that audience design is necessary in the current setting. Second, they must frequently overcome other tendencies toward consistency and brevity of expression. To assess the impact of both of these factors, we conducted a referential communication experiment in which Directors described arrays of picture cards for two independent Matchers. In the early rounds, both Matchers were present and each possessed a different subset of the Directors' cards. In later rounds, only one of the two Matchers was present at a time and worked with the entire set of cards. We evaluated the degree to which Directors' descriptions showed evidence of audience design by focusing on critical rounds when the Directors described cards that the current Matcher had not previously shared. Directors generally appeared sensitive to the distinction between shared and nonshared items. Additionally, there was more evidence of adjustment at the second partner change, suggesting that the Directors had learned something about the kinds of descriptions required in this situation. Our results suggest that it is important to consider the nature of speakers' experiences of interacting in a particular situation when making claims about the presence or absence of audience design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-606
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002


  • Audience design
  • Conversation
  • Language production
  • Reference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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