Pronoun Interpretation in Explanatory Sentences

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Pronoun Interpretation in Explanatory Sentences

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Title: Pronoun Interpretation in Explanatory Sentences
Author: Hartshorne, Joshua
Citation: Hartshorne, Joshua. 2012. Pronoun Interpretation in Explanatory Sentences. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: While the referent of a non-reflexive pronoun clearly depends on context, the nature of these contextual restrictions is controversial. The present study seeks to characterize one representation that guides pronoun resolution. In causal dependant clauses, the preferred referent of a pronoun varies systematically with the verb in the main clause (contrast Sally frightened Mary because she... with Sally feared Mary because she...), a phenomenon known as "implicit causality". A number of researchers have tried to explain and predict such biases with reference to semantic classes of verbs and linguistic structure. However, the classes and representations invoked have been partly ad hoc and fitted to the phenomenon itself. In this dissertation, evidence is presented that an independently-motivated semantic theory accounts for many known and new phenomena in implicit causality. In the first study, it is shown that verbs within syntactically-defined classes show similar implicit causality biases. In the second study, it is shown that information about the participants in an event (such as their relative social status) do not affect pronoun biases, even when they do affect event representations. In the third study, it is shown that two syntactically-defined verb classes show the same pronoun biases in eight different languages. In combination, these results suggest that implicit causality biases derive primarily from the same underlying semantic representations that determine syntactic behavior and not from general, non-linguistic event representations.
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