Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 525–550 | Cite as

The Interplay of Implicit Causality, Structural Heuristics, and Anaphor Type in Ambiguous Pronoun Resolution

  • Juhani Järvikivi
  • Roger P. G. van Gompel
  • Jukka Hyönä


Two visual-world eye-tracking experiments investigating pronoun resolution in Finnish examined the time course of implicit causality information relative to both grammatical role and order-of-mention information. Experiment 1 showed an effect of implicit causality that appeared at the same time as the first-mention preference. Furthermore, when we counterbalanced the semantic roles of the verbs, we found no effect of grammatical role, suggesting the standard observed subject preference has a large semantic component. Experiment 2 showed that both the personal pronoun hän and the demonstrative tämä preferred the antecedent consistent with the implicit causality bias; tämä was not interpreted as referring to the semantically non-prominent entity. In contrast, structural prominence affected hän and tämä differently: we found a first-mention preference for hän, but a second-mention preference for tämä. The results suggest that semantic implicit causality information has an immediate effect on pronoun resolution and its use is not delayed relative to order-of-mention information. Furthermore, they show that order-of-mention differentially affects different types of anaphoric expressions, but semantic information has the same effect.


Implicit causality Visual-world eye-tracking Pronoun resolution Comprehension Finnish 



This study was supported by a grant from The Academy of Finland (Grant No. 106418) awarded to the first author and a grant from the Leverhulme Trust (F/00143E) to the second author.


  1. Ariel, M. (1990). Accessing noun-phrase antecedents. London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Arnold, J. E., Eisenband, J. G., Brown-Schmidt, S., & Trueswell, J. C. (2000). The rapid use of gender information: Evidence of the time course of pronoun resolution from eye-tracking. Cognition, 76, B13–B26.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Boersma, P. (2001). PRAAT, a system for doing phonetics by computer. Glot International, 5, 341–345.Google Scholar
  4. Butterworth, B., & Goldman-Eisler, F. (1979). Recent studies on cognitive rhythm. In A. W. Siegman & S. Feldstein (Eds.), Of Speech and Time: Temporal Speech Patterns in Interpersonal Contexts (pp. 211–224). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  5. Cozijn, R., Commandeur, E., Vonk, W., & Noordman, L. G. (2011). The time course of the use of implicit causality information in the processing of pronouns: A visual world paradigm study. Journal of Memory and Language, 64(4), 381–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Crawley, R., Stevenson, R., & Kleinman, D. (1990). The use of heuristic strategies in the interpretation of pronouns. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 4, 245–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ferreira, F., & Clifton, C. E. (1986). The independence of syntactic processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 348–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Frank, S. L., Koppen, M., Noordman, L. G. M., & Vonk, W. (2007). Coherence-driven resolution of referential ambiguity: A computational model. Memory & Cognition, 35, 1307–1322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frazier, L. (1987). Sentence processing: A tutorial review. In M. Coltheart (Ed.), Attention and Performance XII (pp. 559–586). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  10. Frederiksen, J. (1981). Understanding anaphora: Rules used by readers in assigning pronominal referents. Discourse Processes, 4, 323–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Garnham, A. (2001). Mental models and the interpretation of anaphora. Hove: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  12. Garnham, A., Traxler, M., Oakhill, J., & Gernsbacher, M. A. (1996). The locus of implicit causality effects in comprehension. Journal of Memory & Language, 35, 517–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Garvey, C., & Caramazza, A. (1974). Implicit causality in verbs. Linguistic Inquiry, 5, 459–464.Google Scholar
  14. Garvey, C., Caramazza, A., & Yates, J. (1975). Factors influencing assignment of pronoun antecedents. Cognition, 3, 227–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gernsbacher, M. A., & Hargreaves, D. (1988). Accessing sentence participants: The advantage of first mention. Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 699–717.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Givón, T. (1983). Topic continuity in discourse. Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gordon, P. C., Hendrick, R., & Foster, K. L. (2000). Language comprehension and probe-list memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26(3), 766.Google Scholar
  18. Greene, S. B., & McKoon, G. (1995). Telling something we can’t know: Experimental approaches to verbs exhibiting implicit causality. Psychological Science, 6, 262–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gundel, J., Hedberg, N., & Zacharski, R. (1993). Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions. Language, 69, 274–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hakulinen, A., & Karlsson, F. (1988). Nykysuomen Lauseoppia. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.Google Scholar
  21. Halmari, H. (1996). On accessibility and coreference. PRAGMATICS AND BEYOND NEW SERIES, 155-178.Google Scholar
  22. Hedberg, N. (2000). The referential status of clefts. Language, 891–920.Google Scholar
  23. Heller, D., Grodner, D., & Tanenhaus, M. K. (2008). The role of perspective in identifying domains of reference. Cognition, 108, 831–836.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hopper, P. J., & Thompson, S. A. (1980). Transitivity in grammar and discourse. Language, 56(2), 251–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Järvikivi, J., Van Gompel, R. P. G., Hyönä, J., & Bertram, R. (2005). Ambiguous pronoun resolution: Contrasting the first-mention and subject-preference accounts. Psychological Science, 16, 260–264.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Kaiser, E. (2000) Pronouns and demonstratives in Finnish: Indicators of Referent Salience. In P. Baker, A. Hardie, T. McEnery and A. Siewierska (eds.), Proceedings of the Discourse Anaphora and Anaphor Resolution Conference. Lancaster, UK: University Center for Computer Corpus Research on Language, Technical Papers vol.12, 20–27.Google Scholar
  27. Kaiser, E., & Trueswell, J. (2008). Interpreting pronouns and demonstratives in Finnish: Evidence for a form-specific approach to reference resolution. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23, 709–748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kako, E. (2006). Thematic role properties of subjects and objects. Cognition, 101, 1–42.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Kehler, A., Kertz, L., Rohde, H., & Elman, J. L. (2008). Coherence and coreference revisited. Journal of Semantics, 25, 1–44.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Koornneef, A. W., & Van Berkum, J. J. A. (2006). On the use of verb-based implicit causality in sentence comprehension: Evidence from self-paced reading and eye tracking. Journal of Memory & Language, 54, 445–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McDonald, J. L., & MacWhinney, B. (1995). The time-course of anaphor resolution: Effects of implicit verb causality and gender. Journal of Memory & Language, 34, 543–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McKoon, G., Greene, S. B., & Ratcliff, R. (1993). Discourse models, pronoun resolution, and the implicit causality of verbs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 19, 1040–1052.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Miltsakaki, E. (2002). Toward an aposynthesis of topic continuity and intrasentential anaphora. Computational Linguistics, 28, 319–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pollatsek, A., & Well, A. D. (1995). On the use of counterbalanced designs in cognitive research: A suggestion for a better and more powerful analysis. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 21, 785–794.Google Scholar
  35. Pyykkönen, P., & Järvikivi, J. (2010). Activation and persistence of implicit causality information in spoken language comprehension. Experimental Psychology, 57(1), 5–16.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Pyykkönen, P., Matthews, D., & Järvikivi, J. (2010). Three-year-olds are sensitive to semantic prominence during online language comprehension: A visual world study of pronoun resolution. Language and Cognitive Processes, 25(1), 115–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rose, R. L. (2005). The relative contribution of syntactic and semantic prominence to the salience of discourse entities. PhD thesis, Northwestern University.Google Scholar
  38. Schumacher, P., Roberts, L., & Järvikivi, J. (in press). Agentivity drives real-time pronoun resolution: Evidence from German er and der. Lingua.Google Scholar
  39. Stevenson, R. J., Crawley, A., & Kleinman, D. (1994). Thematic roles, focus and the representation of events. Language and Cognitive Processes, 9, 519–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stewart, A. J., Pickering, M. J., & Sanford, A. J. (2000). The time course of the influence of implicit causality information: Focusing versus integration accounts. Journal of Memory and Language, 42, 423–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Tanenhaus, M. K., Spivey-Knowlton, M. J., Eberhard, K. M., & Sedivy, J. C. (1995). Integration of visual and linguistic information in spoken language comprehension. Science, 268, 1632–1634.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Trueswell, J. C., Tanenhaus, M. K., & Garnsey, S. (1994). Semantic influences on parsing: Use of thematic role information in syntactic ambiguity resolution. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 285–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Van Berkum, J. J. A., Koornneef, A. W., Otten, M., & Nieuwland, M. S. (2007). Establishing reference in language comprehension: An electrophysiological perspective. Brain Research, 1146, 158–171.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Van Donzel, M. (1999). Prosodic aspects of information structure in discourse. The Hague: Thesus.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juhani Järvikivi
    • 1
  • Roger P. G. van Gompel
    • 2
  • Jukka Hyönä
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.School of PsychologyUniversity of DundeeDundeeScotland
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

Personalised recommendations