Memory & Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 318-331

First online:

Evidence for an anaphoric mechanism within syntactic processing: Some reference relations defy semantic and pragmatic constraints

  • Wayne CowartAffiliated withOhio State University
  • , Helen S. CairnsAffiliated withQueens CollegeCity University of New York


In three experiments, we examined an interaction between the pronounthey and syntactic analysis. Experiment 1 demonstrates thatthey can slow reading times tois when this verb is visually presented immediately after a sentence fragment ending with an ambiguous expression such asflying kites. This effect seems to involve a coreference assignment linkingthey and the ambiguous expression that influences the syntactic analysis of the latter. Experiments 2 and 3 show that this effect can operate even when coreference betweenthey and the ambiguous expression is implausible. These results support a modular theory of comprehension that includes structurally oriented reference processes with access to some, but not all, of the listener’s knowledge relevant to coreference.