Processing cataphors: Active antecedent search is persistent
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionMemory & Cognition. 2021, 49 1370-1386. 10.3758/s13421-021-01176-z
Cataphors precede their antecedents, so they cannot be fully interpreted until those antecedents are encountered. Some researchers propose that cataphors trigger an active search during incremental processing in which the parser predictively posits potential antecedents in upcoming syntactic positions (Kazanina et al., Journal of Memory and Language, 56, 384–409, 2007). One characteristic of active search is that it is persistent: If a prediction is disconfirmed in an earlier position, the parser should iteratively search later positions until the predicted element is found. Previous research has assumed, but not established, that antecedent search is persistent. In four experiments in English and Norwegian, we test this hypothesis. Two sentence completion experiments show a strong off-line preference for coreference between a fronted cataphor and the first available argument position (the main subject). When the main subject cannot be the antecedent, participants posit the antecedent in the next closest position: object position. Two self-paced reading studies demonstrate that comprehenders actively expect the antecedent of a fronted cataphor to appear in the main clause subject position, and then successively in object position if the subject does not match the cataphor in gender. Our results therefore support the claim that antecedent search is active and persistent.