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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Is there a predictability hierarchy in reference resolution?


The concept of accessibility has often been evoked to explain reference resolution. According to the Givenness Hierarchy theory, a referent’s accessibility in the mental state of a comprehender is encoded in the form of the referent as part of its lexical semantic representation. However, the current literature has not reached a consensus on what accessibility exactly means and how to best quantify it. The factors that modulate accessibility show a great extent of overlap with another independently motivated concept of predictability, raising the possibility of a “Predictability Hierarchy” that mirrors Givenness Hierarchy. In a self-paced reading study, the current study examines whether there is such “Predictability Hierarchy” by manipulating the predictability and the form of a referent presented to the participants. Our results indicate that although there is no strong evidence for approximating the Givenness Hierarchy with a “Predictability Hierarchy,” there is some preliminary evidence for a partial correlation between the form and the predictability of a referent.

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