Representations underlying pronoun choice in Italian and English



Fukumura K, Hervé C, Sandra V, Zhang S & Foppolo F (2022) Representations underlying pronoun choice in Italian and English. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75 (8), pp. 1428-1447.

Research has shown that speakers use fewer pronouns when the referential candidates are more similar and hence compete more strongly. Here we examined the locus of such an effect, investigating whether pronoun use is affected by the referents’ competition at a non-linguistic level only (non-linguistic competition account) or whether it is also affected by competition arising from the antecedents’ similarities (linguistic competition account) and the extent to which this depends on the type of pronoun. Speakers used Italian null pronouns and English pronouns less often (relative to full nouns) when the referential candidates compete more strongly situationally, whilst the antecedents’ semantic, grammatical or phonological similarity did not affect the rates of either pronouns, providing support for the non-linguistic competition account. However, unlike English pronouns, Italian null pronouns were unaffected by gender congruence between human referents, running counter to the gender effect for the use of non-gendered overt pronouns reported earlier. Hence, whilst both null and overt pronouns are sensitive to non-linguistic competition, what similarity affects non-linguistic competition partly depends on the type of pronouns.

language production; referential communication; similarity-based competition

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: Volume 75, Issue 8

FundersThe Leverhulme Trust
Publication date31/08/2022
Publication date online31/10/2021
Date accepted by journal23/09/2021

People (2)


Dr Kumiko Fukumura
Dr Kumiko Fukumura

Lecturer, Psychology

Dr Shi Zhang
Dr Shi Zhang

Research Assistant, Psychology