Technical Reports (CIS)

Document Type

Technical Report

Date of this Version

April 1992


University of Pennsylvania Department of Computer and Information Science Technical Report No. MS-CIS-92-32.


This paper has two aims: (1) to generalize a computational account of discourse processing called CENTERING and apply it to discourse processing in Japanese, and (2) to provide some insights on the effect of syntactic factors in Japanese on discourse interpretation. We argue that while discourse interpretation is an inferential process, the syntactic cues constrain this process, and demonstrate this argument with respect to the interpretation of ZEROS, unexpressed arguments of the verb, in Japanese. The syntactic cues in Japanese discourse that we investigate are the morphological markers for grammatical TOPIC, the post-position wa, as well as those for grammatical functions such as SUBJECT, ga, OBJECT, o and OBJECT2, ni. In addition, we investigate the role of speakers' EMPATHY, which is the perspective from which an event is described. This is morphologically indicated through the use of verbal compounding, i.e. the auxiliary use of verbs such as kureta, kita. Our results are based on a survey of native speakers of their interpretation of short discourses, consisting of minimal pairs, varied by one of the above factors. We demonstrate that these syntactic cues do indeed affect the interpretation of ZEROS, but that having previously been the TOPIC and being realized as a ZERO also contribute to an entity being interpreted as the TOPIC. We propose a new notion of TOPIC AMBIGUITY, and show that CENTERING provides constraints on when a ZERO can be interpreted as the TOPIC.



Date Posted: 21 August 2007