On the (Ir)relevance of Psycholinguistics for Anaphora Resolution

Psycholinguistic experiments show that pronouns tend to be resolved differently depending on whether they occur in main or subordinate clauses. If a pronoun in a subordinate clause has more than one potential antecedent in the main clause, then the pronoun tends to refer to the antecedent which has a certain thematic role (depending on the verb and on the subordinating conjunction). In contrast, pronouns in main clauses tend to refer back to the subject of the previous main clause, and this tendency is not affected by any verbs or conjunctions. In natural language processing, these findings have recently led to a proposal that pronoun resolution systems should have a split architecture, i.e. that they should use different mechanisms for pronoun resolution in the two cases. With the help of two parsed and coreference-annotated corpora, this paper estimates the impact of the split-architecture proposal. The findings of this work are as follows: (1) Subject pronouns in authentic texts behave the same way in main and subordinate clauses. (2) The number of sentences in which a split architecture would behave differently than a system that treats both cases the same way is close to zero. Therefore, a separate treatment of resolution within and across units is unlikely to improve the performance of any system. This result casts a doubt on the split-architecture proposal, and more generally on approaches that directly incorporate psycholinguistic results into performance-oriented algorithms for anaphora resolution without assessing the relative importance of the phenomena that underlie them
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