[PS-1.44] Juggling multiple perspectives when interpreting epithets: Who's the crazy genius?

Klages, J. 1 , Kaiser, E. 2 , Weskott, T. 3 , Gerle, S. 1 & Holler, A. 3

1 Courant Research Centre \"Text Structures\", University of Goettingen, XPrag.de, Project ProProCon
2 University of Southern California
3 Courant Research Centre \"Text Structures\"/German Dept., University of Goettingen/XPrag.de, Project ProProCon

Language contains many expressions whose interpretation depends on knowing whose opinion/viewpoint is being referred to. With epithets (that idiot, the poor girl), we need to know whose opinion/viewpoint the epithet reflects (who thinks Bob is an idiot?). Although earlier work claimed epithets reflect speaker opinion, recent work (Harris/Potts'09, Kaiser'15) showed epithets can reflect the opinion of a character in a narrative. However, although narratives standardly contain multiple characters, it is not known whether/to what extent comprehenders consider multiple (non-narrator) perspectives/attitude-holders for epithets. Understanding viewpoint-attribution in multi-character contexts is crucial for models of perspective-taking.

We investigated sequences like (1), with/without the initial sentence. Whose viewpoint/attitude does the epithet reflect (attitude-holder: Nina/Rachel/Narrator)?

EXAMPLE(1) (Nina glanced into the classroom.) Rachel was studying with Stephanie. That crazy genius; she was a straight 'A' student!

RESULTS: Epithets are mostly interpreted from the perspective of a character, not the narrator. If two potential attitude-holders are present (Nina/Rachel), they compete as potential attitude-holders for the epithet, though the first-mentioned one (presumably interpreted as topic) is preferred. Without the first sentence, the subject (Rachel) is preferred. SUMMARY: In multi-character narratives, comprehenders activate multiple perspectives when resolving epithets, and consideration of these perspectives may be modulated by topicality.