Processing of reference and the structure of language: An analysis of complex noun phrases

Peter C. Gordon, Randall Hendrick, Kerry Ledoux, Chin Lung Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Five experiments used self-paced reading time to examine the ways in which complex noun phrases (both conjoined NPs and possessive NPs) influence the interpretation of referentially dependent expressions. The experimental conditions contrasted the reading of repeated names and pronouns referring to components of a complex NP and to the entire complex NP. The results indicate that the entity introduced by a major constituent of a sentence is more accessible as a referent than the entities introduced by component noun phrases. This pattern of accessibility departs from the advantage of first mention that has been demonstrated using probe-word recognition tasks. It supports the idea that reduced expressions are interpreted as referring directly to prominent entities in a mental model whereas reference by names to entities that are already represented in a mental model is mediated by additional processes. The same interpretive processes appear to operate on coreference within and between sentences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-379
Number of pages27
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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