The role of prosody in overt pronoun resolution in a null subject language and in a non-null subject language: A production study

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Abstract

In this study, we investigate how prosodic cues are used when an overt pronoun is associated with either a subject or an object antecedent in Italian and in Swedish. To address this question, 28 Italian speakers and 28 Swedish speakers completed a production task, by reading out loud globally-ambiguous sentences containing overt pronouns and a control interpretation task, where they selected either a subject or an object antecedent for each pronoun, contained in a globally-ambiguous sentence. We expected that the different preference patterns in antecedent assignment in the two languages would affect the speakers’ use of prosody. In Italian, overt pronouns are usually associated with object antecedents, whereas null pronouns are usually associated with subject antecedents (Position of Antecedent Strategy – “PAS” – Carminati 2002). On the other hand, Swedish overt pronouns leave a measure of ambiguity with respect to antecedent assignment. The results of the control interpretation task confirmed that the Italian speakers conformed to the PAS, but the results for the Swedish speakers unexpectedly indicated a preference for subject antecedents. For the production task, the Italian speakers produced longer inter-clausal pauses and pronouns with a higher degree of prominence with subject rather than object antecedents. In contrast, the Swedish speakers produced longer pauses and pronouns with a higher degree of prominence with object rather than subject antecedents. These results suggest that inter-clausal pause and prosodic prominence favoured the most unpredictable antecedent of overt pronouns (see Goad et al. 2018): the subject in Italian and the object in Swedish.

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  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Article number135
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalGlossa: a journal of general linguistics
Volume4
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec 6
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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