Information Structure and Pronoun Resolution in German and French: Evidence from the Visual-World Paradigm

  • Saveria ColonnaEmail author
  • Sarah Schimke
  • Barbara Hemforth
Part of the Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics book series (SITP, volume 44)


The experiments presented here investigated the interplay of language-specific and language-independent factors influencing within-sentence anaphora resolution. Using the visual-world paradigm, we looked at interpretation preferences in French and German. We investigated the effects of both the information status and the grammatical role of the first-mentioned referent on pronoun interpretation. The results show that the effects of grammatical role are different in the two languages: there is a clear lasting preference for the object in French but not in German. Explicitly topicalizing or focusing the first referent, however, has similar effects in the two languages: topicalization leads to more binding of ambiguous pronouns to a potential antecedent than focusing. We argue that this effect is independent of antecedent salience.


Pronoun resolution Visual world paradigm Information structure French German 



We thank Pirita Pyykkönen and Daniel Holt for giving us the opportunity to collect the German data as well as their help with running the experiment and finding participants.


  1. Abeillé, A., Clément, L., & Toussenel, F. (2003). Building a treebank for French. In A. Abeillé (Ed.), Treebanks: Building and using parsed corpora (pp. 165–188). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ariel, M. (1990). Accessing noun-phrase antecedents. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  3. 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 eyetracking. Cognition, 76, B13–B26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bosch, P., Katz, G., & Umbach, C. (2007). The non-subject bias of German demonstrative pronouns. In M. Schwarz-Friesel, M. Consten, & M. Knees (Eds.), Anaphors in text: Cognitive, formal and applied approaches to anaphoric reference (pp. 145–164). Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bouma, G., & Hopp, H. (2006). Effects of word order and grammatical function on pronoun resolution in German. In R. Artstein & M. Poesio (Eds.), Ambiguity in anaphora workshop proceedings – ESSLLI 2006 (pp. 5–12).Google Scholar
  6. Baumann, P., Konieczny, L., & Hemforth, B. (2014). Pragmatic expectations in anaphora resolution: Alternative constructions and referring expressions. In B. Hemforth, B. Mertins, & C. Fabricius-Hansen (Eds.), Psycholinguistic approaches to meaning and understanding across languages (Studies in theoretical psycholinguistics, pp. 197–212–251). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  7. Bott, O., & Solstad, T. (2014). From verbs to discourse: A novel account of implicit causality. In B. Hemforth, B. Schmiedtová, & C. Fabricius-Hansen (Eds.), Psycholinguistic approaches to meaning and understanding across languages (Studies in theoretical psycholinguistics, pp. 213–251). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  8. Colonna, S., Schimke, S., & Hemforth, B. (2012a). Information structure effects on anaphora resolution in German and French: A cross-linguistic study of pronoun resolution. Linguistics, 50(5), 991–1013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Colonna, S., Schimke, S., Medam, T., & Hemforth, B. (2012b, March 14–16). Different effects of focus in intra- and inter-sentential pronoun resolution in German and French. Poster presented at the 25th annual CUNY conference on human sentence processing, New York, NY.Google Scholar
  10. Cooper, R. M. (1974). The control of eye fixation by the meaning of spoken language: A new methodology for the real-time investigation of speech perception, memory and language processing. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 84–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cowles, H. W., Walenski, M., & Kluender, R. (2007). Linguistic and cognitive prominence in anaphor resolution: Topic, contrastive focus and pronouns. Topoi, 26, 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 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
  13. Doherty, M. (2001). Cleft-like sentences. Linguistics, 39(3), 607–638.Google Scholar
  14. Ellert, M. (2010). MPI series in psycholinguistics: Vol. 58. Ambiguous pronoun resolution in L1 and L2 German and Dutch. Wageningen: Ponsen & Looijen.Google Scholar
  15. Foraker, S., & McElree, B. (2007). The role of prominence in pronoun resolution: Availability versus accessibility. Journal of Memory and Language, 56, 357–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fossard, M., & Rigalleau, F. (2005). Referential accessibility and anaphor resolution: The case of the French hybrid demonstrative pronoun celui-ci/celle-ci. In A. Branco, T. McEnery, & R. Mitkov (Eds.), Anaphora processing: Linguistic, cognitive and computational modeling (pp. 283–300). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frederiksen, J. (1981). Understanding anaphora: Rules used by readers in assigning pronominal referents. Discourse Processes, 4, 323–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Frey, W. (2004). The grammar-pragmatics interface and the German prefield. Sprache & Pragmatik, 52, 1–39.Google Scholar
  19. Gernsbacher, M. A. (1990). Language comprehension as structure building. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Gernsbacher, M. A., & Hargreaves, D. (1988). Accessing sentence participants: The advantage of first mention. Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 699–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gernsbacher, M. A., Hargreaves, D. J., & Beeman, M. (1989). Building and accessing clausal representations: The advantage of first mention versus the advantage of clause recency. Journal of Memory and Language, 28, 735–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Givon, T. (1983). Topic continuity in discourse: A quantitative cross-language study. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gordon, P. C., & Hendrick, R. (1998). The representation and processing of coreference in discourse. Cognitive Science, 22(4), 389–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gordon, P. C., Grosz, B. J., & Gilliom, L. A. (1993). Pronouns, names, and the centering of attention. Cognitive Science, 17, 311–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grosz, B. J. (1977). The representation and use of focus in a system for dialogue understanding. Ph.D. thesis, University of California, Berkeley, CA, and Technical Note 151, Artificial Intelligence Center, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA.Google Scholar
  26. Gundel, J., Hedberg, N., & Zacharski, R. (1993). Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions in discourse. Language, 69(2), 274–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hemforth, B., Colonna, S., Pynte, J., & Konieczny, L. (2004, September 16–17). Pronoun resolution across languages. Poster presented at the architectures and mechanisms for language processing conference, Aix en Provence, France.Google Scholar
  28. Hemforth, B., Konieczny, L., Scheepers, C., Colonna, S., Schimke, S., Baumann, P., & Pynte, J. (2010). Language specific preferences in anaphor resolution: Exposure or Gricean maxims? In S. Ohlsson & R. Catrambone (Eds.), Proceedings of the 32nd annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2218–2223). Portland: Cognitive Science Society.Google Scholar
  29. 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Järvikivi, J., Pyykkönen, P., Schimke, S., Colonna, S., & Hemforth, B. (2013). Information structure cues for 4-year-olds and adults: tracking eye movements to visually presented anaphoric referents. Language and Cognitive Processes. doi: 10.1080/01690965.2013.804941.Google Scholar
  31. Joshi, A., Prasad, R., & Miltsakaki, E. (2005). Anaphora resolution: A centering approach. In Encyclopedia of language and linguistics (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  32. Kaiser, E., & Trueswell, J. C. (2008). Interpreting pronouns and demonstratives in Finnish: Evidence for a form-specific approach to reference resolution. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23(5), 709–748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kehler, A. (2002). Coherence, reference and the theory of grammar. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  34. Lambrecht, K. (1994). Information structure and sentence form: Topic, focus, and the mental representation of discourse referents. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Miltsakaki, E. (2002). Towards an aposynthesis of topic continuity and intra-sentential anaphora. Computational Linguistics, 28(3), 319–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Reichle, R. V. (2012). Cleft type and focus structure processing in French. Language and Cognitive Processes, 4, 1–24. doi: 10.1080/01690965.2012.746464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sanders, T., & Noordman, L. (2000). The role of coherence relations and their linguistic markers in text processing. Discourse Processes, 29, 37–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stevenson, R. J., Crawley, R. A., & Kleinman, D. (1994). Thematic roles, focus and the representation of events. Language and Cognitive Processes, 9, 473–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tanenhaus, M., & Trueswell, J. (2006). Eye movements and spoken language comprehension. In M. Traxler & M. A. Gernsbacher (Eds.), Handbook of psycholinguistics (2nd ed., pp. 863–900). Amsterdam: Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tanenhaus, M. K., Spivey-Knowlton, M. K., Eberhard, K. M., & Sedivy, J. E. (1995). Integration of visual and linguistic information in spoken language comprehension. Science, 268, 632–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Saveria Colonna
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah Schimke
    • 2
  • Barbara Hemforth
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Structures Formelles du LangageCNRS, Université Paris 8ParisFrance
  2. 2.GermanistikUniversity of OsnabrückOsnabrückGermany
  3. 3.Laboratoire de Linguistique FormelleCNRS, Université Paris DiderotParisFrance

Personalised recommendations