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Reference assignment in the absence of sufficient semantic content

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Abstract

This paper investigates the establishment of referential dependencies during the interpretation of pronominal entities and presents evidence from event-related brain potentials (ERPs) for discrete underlying processes. Regardless of their internal structure, reflexives and pronouns are semantically underspecified and must enter into a dependency relation with a proper antecedent to receive referential and meaningful interpretation. This paper addresses the nature of three kinds of anaphoric entities: ordinary reflexives, ordinary pronouns, and logophors – i.e. reflexive entities whose distribution patterns with pronouns. It seeks to further substantiate the claim that logophors – like pronouns – establish dependency at the level of discourse representation and must be functionally dissociated from ordinary reflexives. This paper follows an approach of the establishment of reference which views syntactic information as a prerequisite to interpretation, and more specifically the notion of coargumenthood, whose presence or absence determines the level of representation where interpretation is carried out (i.e. syntax or discourse). Accordingly, after presenting theoretical considerations and processing background, the paper examines one particular ERP component that has recently been identified as a marker of pronoun-antecedent dependency – the N400, a negative deflection peaking around 400ms – and should only surface during the establishment of discourse-based dependency. The current research therefore focuses on the nature of reference assignment during pronominal interpretation and attends to the observation that logophors pattern with pronouns (which are uncontroversially resolved in discourse) but not with ordinary reflexives.

References

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