Anaphoric Resolution of Singular and Plural Pronouns: The Reference to Persons Being Introduced by Different Co-ordinating Structures

Journal of Semantics 7 (4):347-364 (1990)
Abstract
For the resolution of plural pronouns referring to singularly introduced reference persons the plural antecedent has to be built up by the cognitive system itself (installing a plural complex, e. g. ‘John wanted to have a picnic with Mary. They had…’). For singular pronouns the antecedent is usually mentioned in the text explicitly. This contribution examined which aspects of the prepronominal sentence structure determine the installation of a plural antecedent and at which point of time this process is initiated. Using the German pronoun ‘sie, which is ambiguous in respect to number, it was shown in a first experiment that subjects have a preference to continue a text by referring to both singularly introduced persons, if they are combined by the conjunctions ‘and’, ‘as well as’ or neither/nor‘, or by the preposition ‘with’, if the female person is in the verb phrase. Subjects prefer to refer to the female person only after the prepositions ‘without’ and 'instead of, and after ‘with’ if the female person is in the noun phrase. The reaction time data of the second experiment indicated that at least these conjunctions and ‘with’ initiate a plural reference complex before a pronoun is read. This pre-pronominal installation of a complex serves to facilitate plural reference operations executed at a later point in processing. In our view, pronominal resolution is more than a mere recursive search-and-match procedure initiated by reading the pronoun; the cognitive system is better prepared for processing further referential relations. This view is discussed in the context of a ‘pronominal occupation’ hypothesis
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