Forward-looking Effects in Subject Pronoun Interpretation: What Comes Next Matters

AbstractWe report two experiments investigating how the interpretation of subject-position pronouns is guided by the referential structure of the pronoun-containing clause, and how this information interacts with information available in the clause that precedes the pronoun. Thus, we consider information that is available to the language processing system before the pronoun is encountered (pre-pronominal information), as well as information that comes after the pronoun (post-pronominal information). In particular, we test how implicit causality biases of verbs that precede the pronoun-containing clause interact with the referential structure of the pronoun-containing clause, i.e., whether or not the clause with the pronoun contains another ambiguous pronoun. We report two offline studies whose results reveal significant effects of both pre- and post-pronominal referential information on pronoun resolution: In addition to replicating effects of implicit causality biases observed in prior work, we also show that people’s referential biases depend on whether the clause contains only a subject-position pronoun or also a second pronoun in object position.

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