Abstract

For more than three decades, research into the psycholinguistics of pronoun interpretation has argued that hearers use various interpretation ‘preferences’ or ‘strategies’ that are associated with specific linguistic properties of antecedent expressions. This focus is a departure from the type of approach outlined in Hobbs (1979), who argues that the mechanisms supporting pronoun interpretation are driven predominantly by semantics, world knowledge and inference, with particular attention to how these are used to establish the coherence of a discourse. On the basis of three new experimental studies, we evaluate a coherence-driven analysis with respect to four previously proposed interpretation biases—based on grammatical role parallelism, thematic roles, implicit causality, and subjecthood—and argue that the coherence-driven analysis can explain the underlying source of the biases and predict in what contexts evidence for each will surface. The results further suggest that pronoun interpretation is incrementally influenced by probabilistic expectations that hearers have regarding what coherence relations are likely to ensue, together with their expectations about what entities will be mentioned next, which, crucially, are conditioned on those coherence relations.

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