High-frequency words are usually understood and produced faster than low-frequency words. Although the effect of word frequency is a reliable phenomenon in many domains of language processing, it remains unclear whether and how frequency affects pronominal anaphoric resolution. We evaluated this issue by means of two self-paced reading experiments. Native speakers of Spanish read sentences containing the anaphoric noun or pronoun at the subject syntactic position (Experiment 1) or at the object syntactic position (Experiment 2) while the antecedent of the anaphor was either a high-frequency or a low-frequency word. Results showed that nominal anaphors were read faster when referring to high-frequency than to low-frequency antecedents, and faster when referring to subjects than to objects. Critically, pronoun reading times were unaffected by the frequency and by the syntactic position of the antecedent. These results are congruent with theories assuming that syntactic information of the words is not frequency sensitive.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Almeida, J., Knobel, M., Finkbeiner, M., & Caramazza, A. (2007). The locus of the frequency effect: When recognizing is not enough. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 14, 1177–1182.
Arnold, J. E. (1998). Reference form and discourse patterns. Ph.D. dissertation. Stanford University Stanford, CA.
Bader, M., & Meng, M. (1999). Subject-object ambiguities in German embedded clauses: An across-the-board comparison. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28(2), 121–143.
Besner, D., & McCann, R. S. (1987). Word frequency effects and pattern distortion in visual word identification and production: An examination of four classes of models. In M. Coltheart (Ed.), Attention and performance XII: The psychology of reading (pp. 201–219). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Branco, A., McEnery, T., & Mitkov, R. (Eds.). (2005). Anaphora processing. Linguistic, cognitive and computational modelling. Current issues in Linguistic theory series. John Benjamins. Amsterdam.
Brown, A. S. (2012). The tip of the tongue state. New York: Psychology Press.
Brown, E. L., & Rivas, J. (2012). Grammatical relation probability: How usage patterns shape analogy. Language Variation and Change, 24, 317–341.
Carreiras, M., Duñabeitia, J. A., Vergara, M., de la Cruz-Pavía, I., & Laka, I. (2010). Subject relative clauses are not universally easier to process: Evidence from Basque. Cognition, 115, 79–92.
Cliffs, N. J., & Rohde, D. (2001). Linger. http://tedlab.mit.edu/~dr/Linger/
Davis, C. J., & Perea, M. (2005). BuscaPalabras: A program for deriving orthographic and phonological neighborhood statistics and other psycholinguistic indices in Spanish. Behavior Research Methods, 37, 665–671.
Dell, G. (1990). Effects of frequency and vocabulary type on phonological speech errors. Language and Cognitive Processes, 5, 313–349.
Ellis, N. C. (2002). Frequency effects in language processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24, 143–188.
Falk, Y. N. (2006). Subjects and universal grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fernández Soriano, O. (1989). Strong pronouns in null subject languages and the Avoid Pronoun Principle. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 11, 228–240.
Finocchiaro, C., & Caramazza, A. (2006). The production of pronominal clitics: Implications for theories of lexical access. Language and Cognitive Processes, 21, 141–180.
Forster, K. I. F., & Chambers, S. M. (1973). Lexical access and naming time. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 12, 627–635.
Gahl, S., & Garnsey, S. M. (2006). Knowledge of grammar includes knowledge of syntactic probabilities. Language, 82(2), 405–410.
Gernsbacher, M. A., & Hargreaves, D. (1988). Accessing sentence participants: The advantage of first mention. Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 699–717.
Gernsbacher, M. A. (1990). Language comprehension as structure building. Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum.
Glanzer, M., & Adams, J. K. (1985). The mirror effect in recognition memory. Memory and Cognition, 13(1), 8–20.
Glanzer, M., & Adams, J. K. (1990). The mirror effect in recognition memory: data and theory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 16(1), 5–16.
Gordon, P. C., Grosz, B. J., & Gilliom, L. A. (1993). Pronouns, names and the centering of attention in discourse. Cognitive Science, 17, 311–348.
Heine, A., Tamm, S., Hofmann, M., Hutzler, F., & Jacobs, A. M. (2006a). Does the frequency of the antecedent noun affect the resolution of pronominal anaphors? An ERP study. Neuroscience Letters, 400, 7–12.
Heine, A., Tamm, S., Hofmann, M., Bösel, R. M., & Jacobs, A. M. (2006b). Event-related theta activity reflects memory processes in pronoun resolution. Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropsychology, 17(18), 1835–1839.
Hendrickx, I., Devi, S. L., Branco, A., & Mitkov, R. (Eds.). (2011). Anaphora processing and applications. 8th discourse anaphora and anaphor resolution colloquium, DAARC 2011, Faro, Portugal, October 6–7, 2011. Revised Selected Papers. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
Jescheniak, J. D., & Levelt, W. J. M. (1994). Word frequency effects in speech production: Retrieval of syntactic information and of phonological form. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 20(4), 824–843.
Kennison, S. M., & Gordon, P. C. (1997). Comprehending referential expressions during reading: Evidence from eye tracking. Discourse Processes, 24, 229–252.
Knobel, M., Finkbeiner, M., & Caramazza, A. (2008). The many places of frequency: Evidence for a novel locus of the lexical frequency effect in word production. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 25, 256–286.
Lago, S. (2014). Memory and Prediction in Cross-Linguistic Sentence Comprehension. PhD Dissertation. University of Maryland.
Lago, S., Chow, W. Y. & Phillips, C. (2011). Word frequency affects pro-nouns and antecedents identically: Distributional evidence. In: 2011 CUNY conference on human sentence processing. Stanford University.
Malmberg, K. J., & Nelson, T. O. (2003). The word frequency effect for recognition memory and the elevated-attention hypothesis. Memory and Cognition, 31(1), 35–43.
Meyer, A. S., & Bock, J. K. (1999). Representations and processes in the production of pronouns: Some perspectives from Dutch. Journal of Memory and Language, 41, 281–301.
Meyer, D. E., & Schvaneveldt, R. W. (1971). Facilitation in recognizing pairs of words: Evidence of a dependence between retrieval operations. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 90(2), 227–234.
Meyerhoff, M. (2009). Replication, transfer and calquing: Using variation as a tool in the study of language contact. Language Variation and Change, 21, 1–21.
Navarrete, E., Basagni, B., Alario, F. X., & Costa, A. (2006). Does word frequency affect lexical selection in speech production? The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(10), 1681–1690.
Oldfield, R. C., & Wingfield, A. (1985). Response latencies in naming objects. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 118, 43–71.
Perea, M., & Gotor, A. (1997). Associative and semantic priming effects occur at very short-stimulus-onset asynchronies in lexical decision and naming. Cognition, 62, 223–240.
Purkiss, E. (1978). The effect of foregrounding on pronominal reference. Unpublished undergraduate thesis, Glasgow University, Glasgow, Scotland.
Rayner, K., & Duffy, S. A. (1986). Lexical complexity and fixation times in reading. Effects of word frequency, verb complexity, and lexical ambiguity. Memory and Cognition, 14(3), 191–201.
Rayner, K., & Pollatsek, A. (1989). The psychology of reading. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Sanford, A. J., & Garrod, S. C. (1981). Understanding written language. Chichester: Wiley.
Schilling, H. H., Rayner, K., & Chumbley, J. I. (1998). Comparing naming, lexical decision, and eye fixation times: Word frequency effects and individual differences. Memory and Cognition, 26(6), 1270–1281.
Shiffrin, R. M., & Steyvers, M. (1997). A model for recognition memory: REM—retrieving effectively from memory. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 4(2), 145–166.
Simner, J., & Smyth, R. (1999). Phonological activation in anaphoric lexical access. Brain and Language, 68, 40–45.
Traxler, M. J., Morris, R. K., & Seely, R. E. (2002). Processing subject and object relative clauses. Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Memory and Language, 47, 69–90.
Van Gompel, R. G. P., & Majid, A. (2004). Antecedent frequency effects during the processing of pronouns. Cognition, 90, 255–264.
This research was supported by the Ministry of Science and Innovation (FFI2010-20472), Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (FFI2012-31360), Department of Education, Universities and Research, Basque Government (IT665-13), Basque Government and University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU to Egusquiza (BFI-2012-219, EHUA13/39) and EC FP7/SSH-2013-1 AThEME (613465) to Zawiszewski. We are also grateful to Mikel Santesteban and Kepa Erdocia for their valuable help during data analysis as well as for their comments on the previous versions of the manuscript.
About this article
Cite this article
Egusquiza, N., Navarrete, E. & Zawiszewski, A. Antecedent Frequency Effects on Anaphoric Pronoun Resolution: Evidence from Spanish. J Psycholinguist Res 45, 71–84 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-014-9325-3