Here's a relevant-to-linguists talk coming up in the Centre for Cognitive Science at Sussex:
Semantic and Syntactic Factors influencing language production:
"WHO" are we likely to refer to and "HOW" in repeated text?
University of Sussex
University of Sussex
Who are we likely to refer to in the repeated discourse or text? How are we likely to refer to them? This talk presents 5 experiments, looking at which one out of the people that have already been mentioned we are likely to refer to again, and in doing so, are we likely to repeat their full name or use the pronoun. Pronoun resolution is extensively researched topic, and the present research is looking at two previous studies with the conflicting results. One suggests that different factors influence “who” are we likely to refer to and “how” are we likely to refer to them (Fukumura & van Gompel, 2010) and the other that the same factor affects these two questions (Arnold, 2001). In particular, Fukumura and van Gompel, suggest that semantic role that a person mentioned in preceding clause, plays (e.g. stimulus/experiencer), determines who is referred to again, but that the way in which they are referred to (pronoun/name) is determined by the grammatical role (subject or object). Arnold, who looked at the thematic roles of source and goal, suggests that semantic roles influence both “who” we refer to and “how” we refer to them.
In an attempt to understand why these studies produced different results we carried out 5 studies asking people to write continuations to the sentences which introduce two people related by an interpersonal verb. Both implicit causality verbs (following Fukumura & van Gompel) and the source-goal verbs (following Arnold) were used. The 5 experiments were varied in terms of the materials and methodologies used, in experiments 1,4, 5 we used a method of the forced referent, by indicating with an arrow who should participants refer to (thus creating bias-consistent and bias-inconsistent items), and in these experiments the main question was “whether the pronoun or repeated name are used?”. The answer is that the choice of name vs. pronouns is influenced by the grammatical (subject) or structural factor (position of the antecedent in its clause); it is not clear, however, whether it is the first-mention or the subject of the preceding clause.
In the ‘no arrow’ experiments (exp. 2,3), semantics does seem to influence “who” we are likely to refer to; for the implicit causality items, people tend to refer to the “stimulus” rather than an “experiencer” for both types of verbs (SE/ES). For the Arnold materials, when participants are asked to provide causal continuation (exp. 2) there is no clear effect, but when participants are free to continue the sentence as they wish (cause, consequence, elaboration were the main types of cont.) they choose “goal” over the “source”. This suggests the “goal” preference, rather than straightforward causality bias. When people are free to choose the continuation, for the ES/SE verbs their preferred choice of ending is “cause”, whilst for the GS/SG verbs, causes are less popular as the continuation, and this might allow people to refer to “goals” rather than “sources”. Further studies will investigate these questions by asking people to write consequential continuations. Insofar, it seems that slight changes in either items or instructions, affect changes on more levels than one. This might be an approach analogous to Marr’s theory of vision, which suggests that statistical properties of language affect language comprehension and language production at the very basic level.