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Topic-Continuity and Topic-Shift Effects in Spanish Discourse

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A Comparative Analysis of Referring Expressions

image of International Review of Pragmatics

Differences in use among referring expressions are usually explained on the basis of the cognitive accessibility of their antecedents, where antecedent accessibility has been operationalized differently in the literature; i.e. as a grammatical role, as syntactic prominence or as antecedent distance. On these grounds, it has been proposed that personal pronouns prefer topical antecedents whereas demonstratives prefer non-topical antecedents. This paper investigates the referring properties of Spanish demonstratives and direct object personal pronouns with the aim to unveil their differences and similarities. My analysis shows that these two expressions are very similar referentially when a narrow view of discourse context is considered. However, important differences show up when a broader notion of context is thrown into the picture; i.e. contexts that extend beyond the immediate previous sentence and beyond the immediate local topic of discourse. Based on my corpus evidence and on previous research on the pragmatic interpretation of referring expressions, I claim that direct object personal pronouns and demonstrative noun phrases crucially differ in the way they contribute to discourse coherence; the former playing the role of topic continuity markers and the latter focalising referents that reintroduce suspended or declining topics and marking (sub)-topic shifts in the discourse.

Affiliations: 1: Indiana University-Purdue University


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