# Clausal Backgrounding & Pronominal Reference – A Functionalist

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Clausal Backgrounding & Pronominal Reference – A Functionalist
Approach to C-command Catherine L. Harris & Elizabeth A. Bates

Outline of Lecture Functionalists vs. Generativists
The Pronominal Debate Experiment 1 – Coreference Rates Experiment 2 – Syntactic Prominence Experiment 3 – Extra-sentential Referents Experiment 4 – Additional Factors Possible Criticism Functionalist Claim

Functionalists vs. Generativists
Autonomy of the grammar and syntax Innateness and Universal Grammar Methodology Generativists - Structural rules Functionalists - Forms serve communicative functions

Generativists study the distribution of pronouns and their co-reference possibilities in terms of the structure of the syntactical tree. Functionalists will try and explain how the use of pronouns facilitates access to the topic of the discourse and hence, speed the communication process.

Generativist approach for the distribution of pronouns
C-command: a node a c-commands a node b iff: a does not dominate b and vice versa The first branching node dominating a, dominates b If a c-commands b then it is not lower in the tree!

C-command S VP NP John V washed NP Himself C-command

Generativist approach for the distribution of pronouns
1. He finished breakfast before John went to school (he ≠ John) 2. After he finished breakfast, John went to school (he = John) 3. She stood up before Susan began to sing (She ≠ Susan) 4. Before she began to sing, Susan stood up (She = Susan) 5. He ate the cake when the smurf was in the box (he ≠ the smurf) 6. When he was in the box, the smurf ate the cake (he = the smurf) Question: Why in some cases the pronoun can precede it’s co-referent and in other cases it may not?

UG RULE Generativist approach for the distribution of pronouns
Answer: The syntactical structure is the reason! Rule: A pronoun cannot C-command the NP that it refers to S S UG RULE PP S VP NP He P Before S he left NP John V cried PP Before John left VP cried

Functionalist approach for the distribution of pronouns
Pronouns signal reference to a highly accessible discourse entity. Full nouns signal reference to a distant or new discourse entity. Example: “He finished breakfast before John went to school”

Backgrounding Pronouns refer ahead under backgrounding
Backgrounding signals anticipation to the following main clause. Syntactic subordination is the most common strategy for backgrounding. backgrounding is used to signal that the listener must dedicate more resources for the processing of the main clause. Pronouns refer ahead under backgrounding

Examples a. Before they were gunned down, the Gibraltar Three were planning to blow up a band b. Before The Gibraltar Three were gunned down, they were planning to blow up a band a. While he hadn’t read the Gifford article, Associate Dean of Yale College Martin Griffin said that the best administrators are scholars. b. While Associate Dean of Yale College Martin Griffin hadn’t read the Gifford article, he said that the best administrators are scholars. Functionalist generalization : Coreference is derived from communicative constraints

Generativists prediction – UNGRAMMATICAL
Who is right? Are there any backgrounding mechanisms that do not include subordination? She was sitting with 8000 people in Madison square Garden, when Phyllis Rothestein… 2. He had already shot himself before John quite knew what he was doing. 3. He would have been like a son to us, if my wife and I could have kept Jim away from the influence of his family 4. He was just a little boy when I Knew John Generativists prediction – UNGRAMMATICAL Alternative backgrounding mechanism: ASPECT

Experiment 1 – Coreference Rates
Comparing raters’ coreference for the following types of sentences:

Results

Discussion Coreference is better with progressive than with past simple, but is still not as good as subordination. Past simple co-reference is 60% (!!)

Experiment 2 – Syntactic Prominence
Linking empirically syntactic structures to informational prominence: examinees were asked to continue the sentences

Results Discussion Progressive aspect serves as a backgrounding function, albeit less strongly than syntactic subordination does.

Experiment 3 – Extra-sentential Referents
Question: Why was there co-reference in experiment 1? Hypothesis: Isolated sentences! Test it – present sentences with a extra-sentential referent:

Aspect Effect in ‘when’ Sentences

Results

Discussion Coreference is higher for subordinate clauses
When subordination is present aspect bears little effect Aspect improved coreference in main clauses The new name enables readers to not co-refer, but the repeated name provokes a conflict – Aspect permits resolving of the conflict through coreference.

20% permitted co-reference in a main, past simple clause for a new name! Hypothesis: semantics of ‘when’ clauses enhances backgrounding effects

‘when’ vs. ‘after’ Mental state verbs vs. communication verbs

Results

Discussion ‘After’ yielded less co-reference than ‘when’
Mental-state verb influenced in ‘when’ past simple passages, not in progressive – maybe aspect is a stronger hint Conclusion: many factors influence co-reference

General Discussion Hypothesis: Backgrounding is what allows a pronoun to precede it’s referent and not syntactic subordination Experiments showed that aspect can allow co-reference but is a weaker cue than subordination. Aspect is used in isolation & when a repeated name occurs Multiple factors influence co-reference

Possible Criticism C-command has many more effects other than co-reference (anaphor pronouns) ‘when clauses’ are not subordinate, but coordinated – the two parts are equal in prominence

Functionalist Claim Equality of prominence is what triggers the backgrounding reading Formalists make interpretation dictate the structure instead of vice versa Explanations for linguistic form should be sought in the informational structure being served by these forms

Language Comrehenders Mentally represent the Shapes of Objects
Rolf A. Zwaan, Robert A. Stanfield, & Richard H. Yaxley

He hammered the nail into the wall
He hammered the nail into the floor The ranger saw the eagle in the sky The ranger saw the eagle in the nest