The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

ESSL/LAcqLab 2/23 - Sherry Yong Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Sherry Yong Chen (MIT)
Title: Anaphoricity, Presuppositions, and Memory Retrieval Processes
Date and time: Friday February 23, 2-3pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with E. Matthew Husband (Oxford))

The anaphoric view of presupposition treats the trigger too analogously to anaphoric expressions such as pronouns and VP ellipses, where “anaphoric” is taken to mean “requiring a contextually provided antecedent” (Kripke, 1990/2009; van der Sandt, 1992; Zeevat, 1992; Beck, 2007; a.o.).

(1) John went swimming. Mary went swimming too.

Previous work has suggested that the processing of anaphoric expressions involves a memory retrieval process, where the memory representation of an antecedent is retrieved via direct access by using a content-addressable mechanism: comprehenders are able to directly access the representation of an antecedent, without serially searching through irrelevant intermediate materials before finding the desired representation in memory (Foraker & MeElree, 2007; Martin & McElree, 2008, 2011; cf. Dillon et al, 2014). We investigate the memory retrieval processes that underlie the real-time comprehension of the anaphoric trigger too. Using the Drift Diffusion Model, we show that the memory representation of the antecedent content that satisfies the presupposition of too is also retrieved via a direct access manner.

These findings contribute to a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that the memory representations of discourse dependencies formed during language comprehension are content-addressable in nature. They also raise an interesting question: a direct access mechanism is generally assumed to be cued-based; in the case of pronouns, morpho-syntactic cues such as gender and number features may serve as cues, but what cues are being exploited in the case of presupposition triggers? Finally, we discuss how the current study opens up further questions related to discourse structure, presupposition accommodation, and context update.