LINGUIST List 14.1437

Mon May 19 2003

Disc: Anaphora makes the headlines

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Karen van Hoek, Re: 14.1421, Disc: New: Anaphora makes the headlines
  2. Annie Zaenen, RE: 14.1421, Disc: New: Anaphora makes the headlines

Message 1: Re: 14.1421, Disc: New: Anaphora makes the headlines

Date: Mon, 19 May 2003 17:34:44 -0400
From: Karen van Hoek <kvhumich.edu>
Subject: Re: 14.1421, Disc: New: Anaphora makes the headlines

Hi

- On Monday, May 19, 2003 1:14 PM +0000 LINGUIST List 
<linguistlinguistlist.org> wrote:

> the College Board now believes that the sentence

 Toni Morrison's genius enables her to create
 novels that arise from and express the injustices
 African Americans have endured.

> is ungrammatical. ... A student protested that the sentence is 
ungrammatical because there
is no antecedent for "her."

As someone who's done a great deal of work on anaphora within the
Cognitive Grammar framework, I have to say that I see no basis for the
student's claim that the pronoun has no antecedent. At worst, what it
has is a slightly non-prototypical antecedent, and perhaps that's what
the student was reacting to. To explain what I mean by
non-prototypical: In my book _Anaphora and Conceptual Structure_ I
talk about the factors that make certain noun phrases more or less
likely candidates for antecedent-hood., and I discuss possessive
nominals just like the one in this example; I argue that they're
somewhat less cognitively salient than other nominals, so that --
depending on other factors of the construction -- a possessive nominal
might not be utilized as an antecedent for a pronoun (this claim then
serves as a basis for explaining why backwards anaphora is sometimes
possible with a pronoun in the possessive slot, as in "Even his
admirers admit Mandela is no miracle worker").

However, I also show that in forward anaphora constructions, such as
this one, cognitive salience is only a minor factor, not the be-all
and end-all of antecedent selection. That is, a possessive nominal is
a rather strongly atypical antecedent in *backwards* anaphora, because
backwards anaphora constructions require that the antecedent be highly
salient (though even then, it isn't impossible for a possessive
nominal to serve as an antecedent, I just found that it's
statistically rare). In forward anaphora, speakers aren't nearly so
picky about where they find their antecedents, and there's nothing at
all rare about this kind of construction. I'd be very curious to hear
what model of pronominal anaphora this student is assuming that leads
him to the conclusion that a possessive nominal can't function as an
antecedent (I'm being sarcastic, of course, but in all seriousness,
I'm surprised that the College Board went along with this).

Finally, there's the rather obvious point that there's no requirement
in English that a pronoun find its antecedent within the same
sentence, so even if "Toni Morrison" weren't the antecedent, that
wouldn't make the sentence ungrammatical. But on the narrower question
of whether Toni Morrison can be the antecedent for the pronoun, it
seems quite clear that the answer is Yes.

Karen van Hoek
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Message 2: RE: 14.1421, Disc: New: Anaphora makes the headlines

Date: Mon, 19 May 2003 11:21:17 PDT
From: Annie Zaenen <zaenenparc.com>
Subject: RE: 14.1421, Disc: New: Anaphora makes the headlines

I agree with your grammaticality judgment but if (some of) the students
learn in school that there is a rule that prohibits such a construction, it
is a bit difficult to defend penalizing them on the exam for believing it.
The College Board should know what nonsense is taught in school.

Annie
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