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Introducing a new entity into discourse: comprehension and production evidence for the status of dutch er ‘‘there” as a higher-level expectancy monitor

By Stefan Grondelaers, Dirk Speelman, Denis Drieghe, Marc Brysbaert and Dirk Geeraerts


This paper reports on the ways in which new entities are introduced into discourse. First, we present the evidence in support of a model of indefinite reference processing based on three principles: the listener’s ability to make predictive inferences in order to decrease the unexpectedness of upcoming words, the availability to the speaker of grammatical constructions that customize predictive inferences, and the use of ‘‘expectancy monitors” to signal and facilitate the introduction of highly unpredictable entities. <br/><br/>We provide evidence that one of these expectancy monitors in Dutch is the post-verbal variant of existential er (the equivalent of the unstressed existential ‘‘there” in English). In an eye-tracking experiment we demonstrate that the presence of er decreases the processing difficulties caused by low subject expectancy. A corpus-based regression analysis subsequently confirms that the production of er is determined almost exclusively by seven parameters of low subject expectancy. <br/><br/>Together, the comprehension and production data suggest that while existential er functions as an expectancy monitor in much the same way as speech disfluencies (hesitations, pauses and filled pauses), er is a higher-level expectancy monitor because it is available in spoken and written discourse and because it is produced more systematically than any disfluency

Topics: BF
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:
Provided by: e-Prints Soton

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