LINGUIST List 9.562

Sun Apr 12 1998

Sum: Reference of Pronouns

Editor for this issue: Anita Huang <>


  1. Miura Ikuo, Reference of Pronouns

Message 1: Reference of Pronouns

Date: Sun, 12 Apr 1998 18:35:41 +0900 (JST)
From: Miura Ikuo <>
Subject: Reference of Pronouns

 I asked the members of LINGUIST about the grammatical judgements of the
following sentences. 

(1) a. John filed them without reading the papers. (them=the papers)
 b. John looked at him after Mary had spoken to Bill. (him=Bill) 
 c. The chairman hit him on the head before the lecturer had a chance to
say anything. 
 (him=the lecturer) (cited from Reinhart (1981))
 d. He looked at Jim after John was spoken to by Mary (he=John)

(2) a. John filed every paper without reading it. (every paper=it) 
 b. John filed every paper without reading them (every paper=them) 

The following native speakers replied to me.

Tim Beasley, Taimi Metzler, William Morris, Paul Peters,
Anthea Fraser Gupta, Francis Cornish, Lance Nathan, Tim Higgins,
Karen Davis, Anne Marie Augustus, Chris Beckwith, Richard Cook,
John Atkinson, George Elgin, Karen Naughton, Joey Laubach II, Bob Allen,
Debaroh Milam Berkley, Earl Herrick, Ronald Cosper, Randall Henry Eggert,
Douglas Dee, Dick Watson, Dennis Holt, Larry Trask, Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser
Max Wheeler

All the people judge (1d) to be ungrammatical. But the judgments of (1a,
b, c) vary according to the speakers. Some judge (1a, b, c) to be
ungrammatical. However, many of them judge them to be better than (1d),
although they are not natural. Furthermore, many say that (1c) is better
than (1a, b). There are even speakers who judge (1a) to be better than
(1b) and conversely, there are speakers who judge (1b) to be better. Bob
Allen points out that when *reading* and *spoken* in (1a, b) are stressed, 
these sentences become grammatical under the intended meanings. In any
case, it seems that we need some contexts to accept the intended meanings
of (1a, b, c).
 I conclude from the above judgments that there is an subject-object
asymmetry in reference of pronouns. It seems that a pronoun in the matrix
subject position cannot take as the antecedent the elements in the
subordinate clause. On the other hand, it is more likely that a pronoun in
the matrix object position refers to the elements in the subordinate

 As for the examples in (2), many say that (2a) is preferred to (2b). But
the judgments vary. Some of the speakers judge (2b) to be better than
(2a). Some say that both are acceptable. Furthermore, it seems that
*each* and *all the papers* are preferred to *every* in (2a) and in (2b),

Thanks, again.

Ikuo Miura
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