Prominence and coherence in a Bayesian theory of pronoun interpretation

Andrew Kehler, Hannah Rohde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A standard assumption in linguistic and psycholinguistic research on pronoun use is that production and interpretation are guided by the same set of con-textual factors. Kehler et al. (2008) and Kehler & Rohde (2013) have argued instead for a model based on Bayesian principles in which pronoun production is insensitive to a class of semantically- and pragmatically-driven contextual biases that have been shown to influence pronoun interpretation. Here we evaluate the model using a passage completion study that employs a subtle contextual ma-nipulation to which traditional analyses are insensitive, specifically by varying whether or not a relative clause that modifies the direct object in the context sentence invites the inference of a cause of the event that the sentence denotes. The results support the claim that pronoun interpretation biases, but not pro-duction biases, are sensitive to this pragmatic enrichment, revealing precisely the asymmetry predicted by our Bayesian Model. A correlation analysis fur-ther establishes that the model provides better estimates of measured pronoun interpretation biases than two competing models from the literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 63-78
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date23 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • pronoun interpretation
  • discourse coherence
  • pragmatic enrichment
  • Bayesian models


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