The effect of noun phrase length on the form of referring expressions

Hossein Karimi, Kumiko Fukumura, Fernanda Ferreira, Martin J. Pickering

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
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The length of a noun phrase has been shown to influence choices such as syntactic role assignment (e.g., whether the noun phrase is realized as the subject or the object). But does length also affect the choice between different forms of referring expressions? Three experiments investigated the effect of antecedent length on the choice between pronouns (e.g., he) and repeated nouns (e.g., the actor) using a sentence-continuation paradigm. Experiments 1 and 2 found an effect of antecedent length on written continuations: Participants used more pronouns (relative to repeated nouns) when the antecedent was longer than when it was shorter. Experiment 3 used a spoken continuation task and replicated the effect of antecedent length on the choice of referring expressions. Taken together, the results suggest that longer antecedents increase the likelihood of pronominal reference. The results support theories arguing that length enhances the accessibility of the associated entity through richer semantic encoding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)993-1009
Number of pages17
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number6
Early online date5 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014


  • length
  • language production
  • referring expression
  • accessibility


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