Pronominalization and expectations for re-mention: Modeling coreference in contexts with three referents

Jet Hoek, Andrew Kehler, Hannah Rohde*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relationship between pronoun production and pronoun interpretation has been proposed to follow Bayesian principles, combining a comprehender’s expectation about which referent will be mentioned next and their estimate of how likely it is that a potential referent will be re-mentioned using a pronoun. The Bayesian Model has received support from studies in several languages (English, Mandarin Chinese, Catalan, German), but tested contexts have been limited to two event participants, whereas natural language discourse often involves contexts with more than two event participants. In this study, we conducted three story continuation experiments to assess how the Bayesian Model performs in more complex contexts. Our results show that even in contexts with three event participants, comprehenders can behave rationally when interpreting pronouns, but that they appear to require sufficient context to build up a coherent representation of the situation to do so. In addition to testing the basic claim of the Bayesian Model (Weak Bayes), we test the central prediction of the Strong form of the hypothesis: that the two components of the model (next-mention expectations and choice of referring expression) are influenced by dissociated sets of factors. In a model comparison, Experiments 2 and 3 confirm the closest fit from the Bayesian Model, which supports Weak Bayes, and none of our experiments find evidence that the predictability of a referent affects pronominalization rates, which corroborates Strong Bayes. Finally, we test whether the rate of pronominalization is sensitive to factors related to ambiguity and argument/adjunct status of referents; we find that participants vary their production of pronouns most strongly based on the grammatical role of the antecedent (subject or not), with a smaller effect from the presence/absence of a gender-matched competitor and no effect from the syntactic position of this competing referent.
Original languageEnglish
Article number674126
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Communication
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021


  • coreference
  • pronoun production
  • pronoun interpretation
  • benefactives
  • ambiguity
  • bayesian coreference


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