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Anaphoric reference to mereological entities

Cokal, Derya; Filik, Ruth; Sturt, Patrick; Poesio, Massimo


Derya Cokal

Associate Professor

Patrick Sturt

Massimo Poesio


Corpus evidence suggests that in contexts in which the presence of multiple antecedents might favor plural reference, the disadvantage observed for singular reference may disappear if the potential antecedents are combined in a group-like plural entity. We examined the relative salience of antecedents in conditions where the context either made a group interpretation available (i.e., mereological entity) (e.g., The engineer hooked up the engine to the boxcar …, where group = train), or not (e.g., The engineer detached the engine from the boxcar …). Results from three experiments in which participants were asked to identify referents for singular versus plural pronouns (Experiment 1), to confirm the referents of pronouns in a sentence completion task (Experiment 2), and to provide paraphrases for given texts (Experiment 3), collectively provided evidence that the creation of a group makes that entity (i) a possible referent for singular anaphoric reference and (ii) more salient than its constituents.


Cokal, D., Filik, R., Sturt, P., & Poesio, M. (2023). Anaphoric reference to mereological entities. Discourse Processes, 60(3), 202-223.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 10, 2023
Online Publication Date Apr 27, 2023
Publication Date Jan 1, 2023
Deposit Date Mar 14, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jul 2, 2024
Journal Discourse Processes
Print ISSN 0163-853X
Electronic ISSN 1532-6950
Publisher Informa UK Limited
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 60
Issue 3
Pages 202-223
Keywords plural pronouns, plural object reference, atomic interpretation, complex anaphors, groups, underspecification, singular pronoun
Public URL
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Additional Information Peer Review Statement: The publishing and review policy for this title is described in its Aims & Scope.; Aim & Scope:; Published: 2023-04-27