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Anaphora resolution in young and not-so-young adults: the role of language experience and cognitive skills

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Anaphora resolution (AR) is a phenomenon relevant to the interface between language and cognition. As such, issues of cognitive control, processing resources and language experience, such as print exposure, may be relevant. Furthermore, the effects of aging and individual differences in language or cognitive abilities may be more or less prominent depending on the pronominal form examined. I will present evidence from gaze data and pronominal resolution for two overt anaphoric expressions in Greek, a typical null subject language: the overt pronoun ‘aftos’ (he) and ‘o idios’ (lit. the same) in subject position. Previous self-paced reading and listening studies have revealed an object antecedent preference for ‘aftos’, while ‘idios’ has not been experimentally tested as yet.

64 adults participated in an eyetracking experiment and were asked to express a preference for the referent of each pronoun in a sentence embedded in a short story context. The sentences with the pronoun in subject position were preceded by a sentence where the potential subject and object antecedents were presented in either SVO or OclVS word-order. We monitored participants’ eye-movements, referent attributes and response latencies.

Participants were also tested on a series of non-verbal cognitive tasks as well as measures of language experience. Results indicate that younger participants are faster in response latencies and quicker to process and integrate visual world and auditory information.

Nevertheless, preferences are similar among participants in most of the conditions with subject antecedents being preferred. Further analyses reveal that language experience boosts cognitive skills in older age and reduces the number of ‘odd’ responses in the elderly.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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