Anaphoric one and its implications

John Payne, Geoffrey K Pullum, Barbara A. Scholz, Eva Berlage

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The nominal anaphoric element one has figured prominently in discussions of linguistic nativism because of an important argument advanced by C. L. Baker (1978). His argument has been frequently cited within the cognitive and linguistic sciences, and has provided the topic for a chain of experimental and computational psycholinguistics papers. Baker’s crucial grammaticality facts, though much repeated in the literature, have not been critically investigated. A corpus investigation shows that his claims are not true: one does not take only phrasal antecedents, but can also take nouns on their own, including semantically relational nouns, and can take various of-PP dependents of its own. We give a semantic analysis of anaphoric one that allows it to exhibit this kind of freedom, and exhibit frequency evidence that goes a long way to explaining why linguists have been inclined to regard phrases like the one of physics or three ones as ungrammatical when in fact (as corpus evidence shows) they are merely dispreferred relative to available grammatical alternatives. The main implication for the acquisition literature is that one of the most celebrated arguments from poverty of the stimulus is shown to be without force.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-829
Number of pages36
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • complement-modifier distinction
  • genitive constructions
  • language acquisition
  • linguistic nativism
  • nominal anaphors
  • relational nouns
  • stimulus poverty


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