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Resolving abstract anaphors in Spanish discourse: Underspecification and mereological structures

Iker Zulaica Hernández
From the journal Linguistics

Abstract

Anaphoric underspecification involves multiple potential candidate antecedents for an anaphoric expression. In abstract object anaphora, where linguistic antecedents are clauses, sentences and larger fragments of discourse, the source of referential underspecification is commonly found at the propositional level. Thus, underspecified abstract anaphors have multiple antecedents of a higher-order nature (i.e., propositions and events). Following previous research on anaphoric underspecification with nominal antecedents, I propose a hypothetical three-step process toward the resolution of underspecified abstract object anaphors by hearers in discourse: (i) creation of a complex abstract object with a mereological structure that includes all potential interpretations for an anaphor, (ii) recognition of the thematic connection among propositions intended by the speaker in the form of a specific rhetorical relation, and 3) resolution of the abstract anaphor. Potential antecedents for any underspecified abstract anaphor may include atomic propositions and complex abstract referents that result from a merged interpretation of several propositions that are thematically connected. Provided that it is available, I claim that such a merged interpretation, which is part of the mereological structure, is the preferred interpretation as it is generally interpreted as part of a general purpose by the speaker, in addition to contributing to the thematic coherence of discourse.

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Published Online: 2018-05-23
Published in Print: 2018-06-26

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