[PS-2.65] Topicality-based vs. exposure-based preferences in pronoun resolution in French: Evidence from questionnaires and eye-movements

de la Fuente, I. 1 , Schimke, S. 2 , Vincent, C. 3 , Hemforth, B. 1 & Colonna, S. 3

1 CNRS & University of Paris 7
2 University of Münster
3 CNRS & University of Paris 8

It has been observed that in French sentences such as 'The facteur a appelé le pirate avant qu'il rentre à la maison' ('The postman called the pirate before he went home'), the N2 (the pirate) is strongly preferred as the antecedent of the ambiguous pronoun. This N2-preference in French has been explained by the fact that speakers take into account an alternative non-finite construction that is available in the language ('avant de rentrer à la maison', 'before going home') and that unambiguously refers to the N1.
In a questionnaire and a Visual World eye-tracking experiment, we tested whether the explicit topicalization of the object by means of a passive construction ('Le pirate a été appelé par le facteur...') can change the N2-preference in favor of an N1-preference. Despite the fact that the non-finite construction is an unambiguous alternative for the active as well as the passive sentences, we observed a significant increase of N1-preferences in passive compared to active constructions in both the questionnaire (p<.0001) and the Visual World experiment (p<.01). These results suggest that pronoun interpretation preferences based on the frequency and availability of alternative constructions can be overridden when a referent is explicitly marked as the topic.