Morphosyntactic and Pragmatic Factors Affecting the Accessibility of Discourse Entities

Gail McKoon*, Gregory Ward, Roger Ratcliff, Richard Sproat

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Six experiments provide results showing that the accessibility of discourse entities is affected jointly by pragmatic and morphosyntactic factors. Accessibility was varied pragmatically by making an entity more or less closely related to the topic of its discourse, and it was varied syntactically by introducing an entity either in a verb phrase (deer in hunting deer) or in a compound (deer hunting); the latter should be less accessible according to linguistic data. The accessibility of an entity was examined by measuring the difficulty of understanding a pronoun intended to refer to the entity. Difficulty of understanding the pronoun was measured with reading time for a sentence mentioning the entity, with a test of short term memory, and with a test of long term memory. Results showed that both the pragmatic and syntactic variables affected reading time for the sentence with the pronoun, but that in all cases the relationships among the referent, the pronoun, and information given in the discourse about them appeared to be understood both in their representation in short term memory and in their representation in long term memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-75
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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