Quantifying Discourse Support for Omitted Pronouns

Shulin Zhang, Jixing Li, John Hale

Pro-drop is commonly seen in many languages, but its discourse motivations have not been well characterized. Inspired by the topic chain theory in Chinese, this study shows how character-verb usage continuity distinguishes dropped pronouns from overt references to story characters. We model the choice to drop vs. not drop as a function of character-verb continuity. The results show that omitted subjects have higher character history-current verb continuity salience than non-omitted subjects. This is consistent with the idea that discourse coherence with a particular topic, such as a story character, indeed facilitates the omission of pronouns in languages and contexts where they are optional.

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