Abstract: Comprehending conceptual anaphors in Spanish

CARREIRAS, M., & GERNSBACHER, M. A. (1992). Comprehending conceptual anaphors in Spanish. Language and Cognitive Processes7, 281-299.

This paper examines the mechanism involved in the assignment of an antecedent to an anaphoric element. In general, pronouns must match their antecedents at least with respect to number and gender. Sensitivity to such constraints has been shown in several experiments. But Gernsbacher (1991) has also shown that people have no difficulty comprehending a plural pronoun with an antecedent that is grammatically singular but conceptually plural. In the first three experiments, we tested whether such a “conceptual effect” was preserved with zero anaphors in Spanish. (The typical omission of pronouns in subject position in Spanish.) Verbs in a second clause were marked with plural or singular endings. Plural verbs were rated more natural than singular verbs when they followed three types of singular but conceptually plural antecedents (Experiment 1). Clauses containing plural verbs were read faster when they followed one type of singular but conceptually plural antecedents, i.e. collective sets (Experiments 2 and 3). In fact, clauses containing plural verbs were read equally fast when they followed literally singular collective sets or explicitly group nouns. Using pronominal anaphors, these reading time effects were replicated and extended to sentences that contained generic types as antecedents (Experiment 4). The results are discussed in terms of the use of information during the comprehension of anaphors.