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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton April 21, 2021

Efficiency in discourse processing: Does morphosyntax adapt to accommodate new referents?

Stefan Schnell ORCID logo, Nils Norman Schiborr and Geoffrey Haig
From the journal Linguistics Vanguard

Abstract

The introduction of new referents into discourse has traditionally been regarded as a major challenge to language processing, for which speakers deploy specific syntactic configurations, guided by the speaker’s assessment of the recipient’s state of mind (‘recipient design’). In this paper we probe these assumptions against discourse data from nine languages. We find little evidence for specialized syntactic configurations accommodating new referents; the only notable exception is the association of new reference with direct objects, suggests that linking new referents to already established discourse frames through a transitive construction is preferable to isolating them in an intransitive one. Where specific intransitive predicates are indeed found to host new referents, we find this to be motivated primarily by semantic considerations. Contrary to long-held assumptions, we conclude that the cognitive challenge of referent introduction is only weakly reflected in morphosyntax; instead, discourse production is most efficient when new referents are integrated seamlessly with content-driven demands of the narration.


Corresponding author: Stefan Schnell, Department of General Linguistics, University of Bamberg, Bamberg, Germany; and ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Canberra, Australia, E-mail:

Funding source: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Award Identifier / Grant number: 323627599

Funding source: Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language

Award Identifier / Grant number: CE140100041

Funding source: Australian Research Council DECRA

Award Identifier / Grant number: DE120102017

Acknowledgment

The research reported here was made possible through the following grants: a DFG grant (Sachbeihilfe, DFG project no. 323627599), Schnell’s post-doctoral position at the University of Melbourne within the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CE140100041), and Schnell’s Australian Research Council DECRA grant (DE120102017). For acknowledgments relating to individual corpus compilation and annotation projects, please refer to the Multi-CAST website.[10] We thank the audiences at the CoEDL Seminar, Australian National University, 11 November 2018, and the Workshop Comparative Corpus Linguistics: New Perspectives and Applications, Tallinn, 31 August to 1 September 2018, as well as one anonymous reviewer and the two editors of this special issue, Natalia Levshina and Steve Moran, for their constructive feedback. Their advice has greatly improved our work on the questions examined here. All remaining errors are our own responsibility.

  1. Research funding: The research reported here was made possible through the following grants: a DFG grant (Sachbeihilfe, DFG project no. 323627599), Schnell’s post-doctoral position at the University of Melbourne within the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CE140100041), and Schnell’s Australian Research Council DECRA grant (DE120102017).

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Supplementary material

The online version of this article offers supplementary material (https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2019-0064).


Published Online: 2021-04-21

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