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Eye-catching Anaphora

By A.W. Koornneef


Anaphoric elements (e.g. reflexives such as himself, and pronouns such as she and his) are among the most frequently encountered words in virtually all human languages. The most important feature of these linguistic elements is that they cannot be fully interpreted in isolation, but depend on other elements in the utterance or text instead. Hence, an important question for linguists and psycholinguists is: How does our language system construct anaphoric dependencies? A straightforward possibility is that when readers or listeners encounter an anaphoric element, this will trigger a resolution mechanism which searches the mental representation of a text and picks the most plausible referent for the anaphoric element. However, linguistic research has shown that such a single-mechanism account would be too simple: we should distinguish between syntactic dependencies (i.e. A-Chain formation between a reflexive and its antecedent), semantic dependencies (i.e. bound-variable pronouns) and discourse dependencies (i.e. coreferential pronouns). In this dissertation Arnout Koornneef discusses the findings of a series of eye-tracking and self-paced reading experiments, aimed at evaluating the linguistic ‘Primitives of Binding’ model (Reuland, 2001). In this account it is proposed that a general economy principle governs the division of labor between the different subcomponents of the anaphora resolution system: the syntactic process is thought to be more economic than the semantic process and, similarly, the semantic process is thought to be more economic than the discourse process. The results suggest that this economy hierarchy has ‘behavioral reality’ and, furthermore, that anaphora resolution occurs in a fixed sequential order, i.e. syntactic anaphoric dependencies emerge before semantic anaphoric dependencies and, likewise, semantic anaphoric dependencies emerge before discourse anaphoric dependencies. At a more general level of conception the reported behavioral results demonstrate that incorporating linguistic research into (neuro)cognitive approaches to language comprehension is often helpful – or even mandatory – since linguistic theories clearly define the object of interest (e.g. the nature of anaphoric dependencies) and, furthermore, they generate research questions that would not have emerged otherwise. The author combines insights from theoretical linguistics, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics and this dissertation should therefore be of interest to scholars in any of these domains

Publisher: LOT
Year: 2008
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