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Agentivity drives real-time pronoun resolution: Evidence from German er and der

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DateAccepted/In press - 15 Jul 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 6 Aug 2016
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)25-41
Early online date6/08/16
Original languageEnglish


We report two experiments on the referential resolution of the German subject pronoun er and the demonstrative der (‘he’). Using the
visual world eye-tracking paradigm, we examined the effects of grammatical role, thematic role and the information status of potential
referents in the antecedent clause operationalized by word-order (canonical/non-canonical), in the context of active--accusative verbs
(Exp. 1) and dative-experiencer verbs (Exp. 2). In information-structurally neutral contexts, er prefers the proto-agent and der the protopatient.
This suggests that agentivity is a better predictor for pronoun resolution than subjecthood or sentence topic as previously
proposed. It further supports the claim that agentivity is a core property of language processing and it more generally substantiates the
proposal from cognitive sciences that agentivity represents core knowledge of the human attentional system. With non-canonical
antecedent clauses, because they lack alignment of prominence features, interpretive preferences become less stable, indicating that
multiple cues are involved in pronoun resolution. The data further suggest that the demonstrative pronoun elicits more reliable interpretive
biases than the personal pronoun

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© 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

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