Investigating the Consequences of Focus on the Production and Comprehension of Referring Expressions

In: International Review of Pragmatics


This paper investigates issues related to referent tracking in discourse, in particular whether and how contrastive focus interacts with other factors – in particular pronominalization and subjecthood – to influence comprehenders' and speakers' expectations about what entities will be referred to/mentioned in upcoming discourse. On the basis of data from two psycholinguistic experiments, I argue that to better understand the discourse-structuring effects of contrastive focus, we need to consider not only pronoun interpretation but also production-based questions having to do with choice of upcoming referent and choice of referential form. I suggest that looking at the discourse-level consequences of contrastive focus from the perspective of the comprehender as well as the perspective of the speaker (i) allows us to gain new insights about the effects of focus and the discourse-status of focus-induced alternatives, and (ii) highlights (potentially unexpected) asymmetries between likelihood of upcoming mention and likelihood of pronominalization.

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