Project: Ambiguous anaphoric reference in discourse
This project will explore the mechanisms involved in the brain’s processing and construction of interpretations of anaphoric reference in context. This is a central, although still not fully understood piece in our understanding of how humans build complex interpretations from linguistic input.
Project manager Fredrik Heinat Other project members Eva Klingvall, Lund University, Sweden Participating organizations Linnaeus University; Lund University, Sweden Financier Åke Wibergs stiftelse Timetable July 2020–June 2021 Subject Psycholinguistics, Linguistics, English, Swedish (Department of Languages, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)
More about the project
This project will explore the mechanisms involved in the brain’s processing and construction of interpretations of anaphoric reference in context. This is a central, although still not fully understood piece in our understanding of how humans build complex interpretations from linguistic input. By investigating how anaphoric reference in Swedish is processed we try to get a better understanding of how the cognitive processes involved in establishing reference
One key component in conversation is establishing reference, i.e. to connect the linguistic expression with the thing the speaker is talking about. To guide listeners in this process, speakers have various linguistic means at their disposal, e.g. articles and pronouns. Imagine the following conversation:
Liza: I met an old friend the other day. Marge: And who is this old friend? Liza: She’s an old classmate.
Liza first uses an indefinite noun phrase, ‘an old friend’, to signal that a new referent is introduced. Marge uses a definite noun phrase, ‘this old friend’, to signal that the referent is the same, and finally, Liza uses a personal pronoun, ‘she’, as the referent is now very salient.
These ways of referring to the same person, ‘Liza’s old friend’, make the discourse coherent and clear. If a discourse involves several discourse referents, the resolution of anaphoric pronouns can be difficult, and it is not clear at what stages of discourse processing the resolution of anaphoric pronouns takes place, or if it involves more than one process. One view is that we immediately integrate a suitable antecedent when encountering the pronoun. Another view is that integration processes are stepwise and take place at different stages through the sentence.
If the resolution takes place immediately, it supports processing approaches that stipulate that multiple linguistic processes take place in parallel. If it is delayed it supports approaches stipulating that processes take place incrementally.
This project will use EEG, a method making it possible to investigate pronoun resolution at the level of milliseconds, to find evidence for either of the two approaches.