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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

Pronoun interpretation is central for comprehension. Prior work focused mostly on anaphora, where pronouns refer to ­previously-mentioned antecedents. Less research is on cataphora, where antecedents follow pronouns. Existing work suggests cataphora triggers an active-search mechanism: The parser actively searchers for a syntactically-licenses antecedent. Our results on Italian null and overt subject pronouns show that both processing constraints (“impatient parser”) and the grammatical properties of referring expressions contribute to the outcome of reference resolution; parsers try to “discharge” unresolved pronouns when encountered first (i.e., cataphora) due to a processing load of keeping an unresolved pronoun in memory, even if this goes against grammar specific properties. Furthermore, in line with related research, we find that strong grammatical principles (Binding Theory) are powerful enough to “block” processing effects, contributing to our view of how different components of language processing interact.

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