Memory & Cognition

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 318–331

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


  • Wayne Cowart
    • Ohio State University
  • Helen S. Cairns
    • Queens College
    • City University of New York

DOI: 10.3758/BF03197034

Cite this article as:
Cowart, W. & Cairns, H.S. Memory & Cognition (1987) 15: 318. doi:10.3758/BF03197034


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.

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1987