The effects of animacy in the choice of referring expression

Kumiko Fukumura, Roger van Gompel

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35 Citations (Scopus)


Theories of reference assume that the referent's salience in the discourse context affects the choice between pronouns and definite noun phrases or names. We examined whether and how the referent's inherent properties affect the choice of expressions by investigating animacy. Experiment 1 showed that pronouns were more frequent for animates than inanimates after discourse factors were controlled, and Experiments 2 and 3 showed that the referent's animacy affected pronoun use when the competitor's animacy was counterbalanced, suggesting that the referent's inherent salience has an effect. Furthermore, when the referent was animate, pronouns were less frequent when the competitor was also animate than when it was inanimate, whereas no effect of animacy congruence was found with inanimate referents, suggesting that when the competitor was salient and similar in meaning to the referent, it made the referent's representation less accessible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1472-1504
Number of pages33
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number10
Early online date24 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • discourse
  • animacy
  • reference
  • pronoun

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