The effects of local and global factors on the comprehension of pronouns
The factors influencing the comprehension of pronouns at a local sentence level and at a global text level were examined with the purpose of satisfying six aims. The first and primary aim was to explicate the relationship between local and global influences on pronoun comprehension. At the sentence level, the subject of the sentence had an important effect (especially on the assignment of ambiguous pronouns), there was a strong influence of a gender cue and a general knowledge factor, gender bias, affected assignment even in the presence of a gender cue. When sentences were embedded within text, there was an additional effect of the discourse topic. The second aim concerned the difference between the comprehension of single sentences and of texts. Results indicated that conclusions drawn from single sentence experiments should not be generalised to texts. The third aim investigated some of the factors which signal the discourse topic: Frequency of mention, initial mention in a passage and the title were all important and the effect of the topic on pronoun assignment was graded, depending on the number of factors signalling the topic. The fourth aim was to clarify whether the deep or surface subject was critical for pronoun comprehension. The deep subject was more important in passive sentences, but this result may not generalise to active sentences. The fifth aim was to investigate whether the effects of local subject and global topic were top-down or bottom-up. The effect of the topic appeared to be top-down, while the subject's effect showed elements of both types of processing. The final aim investigated the role of general knowledge in pronoun comprehension. The results suggested that inferences from general knowledge are always made during comprehension. Some proposals are made on the basis of these results and further hypotheses arising from them are considered.