Effects of discourse factors on the interpretation of Korean null pronouns in subject and object position

Jina Song, Elsi Kaiser


The present study investigates whether interpretation of null pronouns in Korean is best captured by a heuristics-based approach, focusing on subjecthood and syntactic parallelism, or a discourse-based coherence-relation approach, which regards pronoun resolution as a side-effect of general inferencing processes during discourse comprehension. We report two experiments where we investigated whether and how the interpretation of null pronouns in subject and object position in Korean is influenced by (i) the nature of the connective between the preceding clause and the pronoun-containing clause (kuliko “and” or waynyahamyen “because”), (ii) the presence/absence of the additive marker -to “also” in the pronoun-containing clause, and (iii) the presence/absence of the topic marker -(n)un on the subject of the preceding clause. As a whole, our results support the coherence-relation approach. We find that when a cue indicating a resemblance relation (either the connective and or the additive marker also) is present, null pronouns in both subject and object position tend to be interpreted as referring to an antecedent in a parallel syntactic position (subject and object respectively). This parallelism bias strengthens when a resemblance relation is signaled by both and and also. In contrast, when the two clauses are linked with because (indicating an explanation relation), null pronouns show no significant preference for either the subject or object antecedent. Topic-marking has no effect, possibly due to lack of context. Our study provides new evidence that both subject- and object-position null pronouns are sensitive to both syntactic and discourse-level factors.


pronoun interpretation; reference resolution; null pronouns; Korean; coherence relations; subjecthood; topic marker

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v5i1.4751

Copyright (c) 2020 Jina Song, Elsi Kaiser

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