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How Speakers Refer: The Role of Accessibility



One of the core components of language is referring, which requires the speaker to choose between expressions that are highly explicit (e.g., the UNC professor, or Peter), and reduced lexical forms (e.g., he). This paper reviews claims that this process is largely driven by the accessibility or salience of the referent, and the psychological processes that underlie these effects. Two classes of constraint are examined: (1) Discourse status, which has traditionally been identified as the determinant of referential choices and (2) Non-linguistic processing constraints that increase the use of explicit forms. These effects together support a modified version of the traditional claim that speakers choose referential explicitness so that the listener can identify the referent, and underscore the need for accessibility to be mediated by a non-linguistic representation.

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