Word Order, Grammatical Function, and Referential Form: On the Patterns of Anaphoric Reference in Finnish


  • Elsi Kaiser University of Pennsylvania




Pronouns, Referring Expressions, Finnish Language, Discourse, Salience


Research on reference resolution has shown that there exists a connection between the form of a referring expression and the accessibility/salience of its referent. More specifically, the most salient referents – i.e. those currently at the center of attention and most prominent at that point in the discourse – are referred to with the most reduced referring expressions. This raises the question: What kinds of factors influence a referent’s salience, i.e. make it a good candidate to be referred to with a reduced anaphoric expression? This paper focuses on two factors which have been claimed to influence referent salience: (1) grammatical/syntactic role and (2) word order. These issues are addressed from the perspective of Finnish, a highly inflected, flexible word order language which has canonical SVO order and two kinds of third person anaphors: the gender-neutral pronoun hän ‘s/he’ and the demonstrative tämä ‘this.’ In this paper, I present the results of three psycholinguistic experiments investigating the referential properties of these two anaphors, and show that hän and tämä differ in their referential properties and are sensitive to different kinds of factors. The results indicate that instead of trying to define the referential properties of these forms according to a unified notion of salience, we should investigate how different factors may be relevant for different referential expressions. The implications that these findings have for our view of how referential systems work are also discussed.