Referent Similarity

  • Craig Lambert


This chapter defines referent similarity as factor in L2 task design. It begins by outlining Rosenberg & Cohen’s (1964) model of referent identification processes and how this model relates to early research on the relationship between the similarity of referents and variation in L1 English speech. More recent work on similarity and L1 speakers of French and Italian is then considered. As yet, there has been no research on referent similarity in TBLT although the need for such research has frequently been pointed out (e.g., Long, 2015; Yule, 1997). Referent similarity is then disambiguated from another construct discussed in the TBLT literature: the number of elements involved in completing a task (Robinson, 2011b). It is argued that these two variables represent separate underlying constructs and relate to separate processes. The chapter concludes with an operational definition of referent similarity as factor in L2 task design together with a model of its predicted effects on L2 speech production.


  1. Asher, S., & Oden, S. (1976). Children’s failure to communicate: An assessment of comparison and egocentrism explanations. Developmental Psychology, 12, 132–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Asher, S., & Parke, R. (1975). Influence of sampling and comparison processes on the development of communication effectiveness. Journal of Educational Psychology, 67, 64–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barbieri, M., & Iozzi, L. (2007). Production and comprehension of analogies in preschool children’s referential communication. Psychology of Language and Communication, 11, 3–21.Google Scholar
  4. Camaioni, L., & Ercolani, A. (1988). The role of comparison activity in the development of referential communication. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 11, 403–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark, H., & Brennan, S. (1991). Grounding in communication. In L. Resnick, J. Levine, & S. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition (pp. 127–149). New York: APA Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Deutsch, W., & Pechmann, T. (1982). Social interaction and the development of definite descriptions. Cognition, 11, 159–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ellis, D. (2009). The relationship between task complexity and linguistic complexity: An analysis of L1 speaker production. Unpublished manuscript of a paper presented at TBLT2009, Lancaster University, UK.Google Scholar
  8. Ford, W., & Olson, D. (1975). The elaboration of the noun phrase in children’s descriptions of objects. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 19, 371–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fussell, S., & Krauss, R. (1989). Understanding friends and strangers: The effects of audience design on message comprehension. European Journal of Social Psychology, 19, 509–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gergle, D., Kraut, R., & Fussell, S. (2004). Language efficiency and visual technology: Minimizing collaboration effort with visual information. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23, 491–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Girbau, D., & Boada, H. (2004). Accurate referential communication and its relation with private and social speech in a naturalistic context. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 7, 81–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hupet, M., Seron, X., & Chantraine, Y. (1991). The effects of the codability and discriminability of the referents on the collaborative referring procedure. British Journal of Psychology, 82, 449–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Iozzi, L., & Barbieri, M. (2009). Preschoolers’ use of analogies in referential communication. First Language, 29, 192–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Isaacs, E., & Clark, H. (1987). References in conversation between experts and novices. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 116, 26–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Krauss, R., & Glucksberg, S. (1969). The development of communication: Competence as a function of age. Child Development, 40, 255–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Krauss, R., & Weinheimer, S. (1967). Effect of referent similarity and communication mode on verbal encoding. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 6, 359–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lambert, C., & Kormos, J. (2014). Complexity, accuracy and fluency in task-based research: Toward more developmentally-based measures of second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 35, 607–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lambert, C., Philp, J., & Nakamura, S. (2017). Learner-generated content and engagement in L2 task performance. Language Teaching Research, 21, 665–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Long, M. (2015). Second language acquisition and task-based language teaching. Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.Google Scholar
  20. Malt, B., Sloman, S., Gennari, S., Shi, M., & Wang, Y. (1999). Knowing versus naming: Similarity and the linguistic categorization of artifacts. Journal of Memory and Language, 40, 230–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Michel, M. (2010). Effects of task complexity and interaction on L2 performance. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Second language task complexity: Researching the cognition hypothesis of language learning and performance (pp. 141–174). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  22. Nobuyoshi, J., & Ellis, R. (1993). Focused communication tasks and second language acquisition. ELT Journal, 47, 203–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pothos, E., Perlman, A., Bailey, T., Kurtz, K., Edwards, D., Hines, P., et al. (2011). Measuring category intuitiveness in unconstrained categorization tasks. Cognition, 121, 28–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Reed, S. (1972). Pattern recognition and categorization. Cognitive Psychology, 3, 382–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Robinson, P. (2011a). Task-based language learning: A review of the issues. Language Learning, 61(Suppl. 1), 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Robinson, P. (2011b). Second language task complexity, the cognition hypothesis, language learning and performance. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Second language task complexity: Researching the cognition hypothesis of language learning and performance (pp. 3–37). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rosch, E., & Mervis, C. (1975). Family resemblances: Studies in the internal structure of categories. Cognitive Psychology, 7, 573–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rosch, E., Mervis, C., Grey, W., Johnson, D., & Boyes-Braem, P. (1976). Basic objects in natural categories. Cognitive Psychology, 8, 382–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rosenberg, S., & Cohen, B. (1964). Speakers’ and listeners’ processes in a word-communication task. Science, 145, 1201–1203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Talmy, L. (2008). Aspects of attention in language. In P. Robinson & N. Ellis (Eds.), Handbook of cognitive linguistics and second language acquisition (pp. 27–38). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Thompson, W. (2009). A game-theoretic model of grounding for referential communication tasks. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA.Google Scholar
  32. Tversky, A. (1977). Features of similarity. Psychological Review, 84, 327–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Whitehurst, G., & Sonnenschein, S. (1978). The development of communication: Attribution variation leads to contrast failure. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 25, 490–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Yule, G. (1997). Referential communication tasks. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig Lambert
    • 1
  1. 1.Curtin UniversityPerthAustralia

Personalised recommendations