Agreement effects of gender and number in pronominal coreference processing in Brazilian Portuguese

Michele Calil dos Santos Alves


Abstract: Pronominal coreference is a syntactic dependency in which pronouns are bound to previous referents in discourse. One of the keys to understanding coreference processing is memory, since information that has already been interpreted and stored must be integrated with new material in real time. The aim of this research is to investigate how pronominal antecedents are retrieved from memory, and more precisely to clarify the role of structural constraints, agreement features and decay factors. Since Brazilian Portuguese has rich morphology, speakers of this language can rely on agreement cues as well as structural constraints to resolve coreference. The hypothesis is that candidates that feature-match pronouns will initially influence coreference processing, even though they violate structural constraints, which will only work later in binding processing to help the parser select the most adequate antecedent. An eyetracking experiment was conducted with twenty-four native speakers of Brazilian Portuguese. The results showed that structurally unacceptable antecedent candidates that feature-matched the pronouns in gender and number facilitated coreference processing. It is claimed that they were considered as potential antecedents. Moreover, it seems that memory might be sensitive to differences that exist between singular and plural features. Plural may be more salient in memory due to the fact it is marked in Brazilian Portuguese. Finally, memory can also be affected by decay factors, which, for example, can be responsible for processing difficulties when there is a long distance between antecedents and pronouns.

Keywords: coreference processing; gender and number features; Brazilian Portuguese.

Resumo: A correferência é uma dependência sintática em que pronomes são ligados a antecedentes prévios no discurso. Uma das chaves para se compreender o processamento da correferência é a memória, uma vez que as informações que foram anteriormente interpretadas e armazenadas devem ser integradas com novo material em tempo real. O objetivo desta pesquisa é investigar como os pronomes recuperam seus antecedentes na memória, mais precisamente, esclarecer o papel das restrições estruturais, dos traços de concordância e dos fatores de decay. Uma vez que o português brasileiro possui rica morfologia, leitores desta língua podem utilizar-se tanto de traços de concordância, como de restrições estruturais para resolver a correferência. A hipótese era de que candidatos que concordassem com os pronomes em gênero e número poderiam influenciar o início do processamento da correferência, apesar de violarem as restrições estruturais, e estas, por sua vez, somente entrariam em jogo mais tarde para ajudar o processador a selecionar o antecedente mais adequado. Foi realizado um experimento de monitoramento ocular com vinte e quarto falantes nativos de português brasileiro e os resultados apontam que antecedentes estruturalmente inaceitáveis que concordam com os pronomes em gênero e número facilitaram o processamento da correferência. Eles foram considerados antecedentes em potencial, apesar de violarem as restrições estruturais. Além disso, parece que a memória pode ser sensível às diferenças existentes entre singular e plural. O plural pode ser mais saliente na memória devido ao fato de ser marcado em português brasileiro. Finalmente, a memória também pode ser afetada por fatores decay, que, por exemplo, podem ser responsáveis por dificuldades de processamento quando há uma distância longa entre os antecedentes e os pronomes.

Palavras-chave: processamento da correferência; traços de gênero e número; português brasileiro.


coreference processing; gender and number features; Brazilian Portuguese.

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