Referential form and discourse prominence - Speaker: Klaus von Heusinger

Referential form and discourse prominence

Klaus von Heusinger

Universität zu Köln, Philosophische Fakultät

The talk discusses references management in discourse from the perspective that the referential form does influence discourse prominence. I show that besides many other parameters, the choice of a definite, an indefinite or a demonstrative determiner does not only express different referential strength, but also contributes to discourse prominence in different ways. In a series of sentence continuation and eye tracking experiments we were able to  measure the prominence of discourse referents by (i) the accessibility for ambiguous pronouns, (ii) the probability that the discourse referent is taken up in the subsequent discourse and (iii) by the expliciteness of the anaphoric expression (pronouns vs. full noun phrase). The results suggests that demonstratives noun phrase contribute a higher prominence level to their discourse referents than definite noun phrases. For indefinites, however, we do not have such a clear picture. We think that indefinite noun phrases are much more dependent on additional pragmatic inferences than the other two types. In sum, the results confirm the hypothesis that referential form influences discourse prominence.