What to talk about, and how: studies on prominence and patterns of coreference
The concept of prominence has been variously defined, and it overlaps with other ideas in both theoretical and cognitive linguistics, such as activation, emphasis, or accessibility. Moreover, prominence has an important role in the interpretation and production of language, influencing what anaphoric patterns are produced and/or seen as mostly likely, and what referring expressions are chosen to express coreference. This thesis presents psycholinguistic, crosslinguistic studies on prominence and coreference, grouping them in two parts respectively on the surface form and repercussions of prominence and on prominence as seen in different components of meaning. The first study, on English, surveys how prominence is expressed in cleft constructions by extracting emphasis markers and "formal" features within clefts from two corpora at different registers, exploring the patterns in which syntactic marking, graphical emphasis markers, and the variants of contraction, pronoun and complementiser are used in a synergy to express prominence. The second study uses the same structure of the cleft in Italian, and focusses on two factors affecting prominence: information structure and sentence boundary. It then analyses the next-mention choices that writers make, and how this choice is carried on with referring expressions. Moving to prominence in smaller linguistic components, the studies in the third section analyse event and entity coreference in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, using different referring expressions and features of the verb (aspect and causative-inchoative alternation) as proxies to manipulate the prominence of entities versus the events in which they are involved. Finally, the fourth and last section investigates number conceptualisation in named entities in the same five languages: in coreference, speakers have to choose whether to index the entity according to its morphosyntactic or notional number, marking agreement on the pronoun consequently. The prominence of grammatical and semantic number in the speakers' indexing of referents is shown to change crosslinguistically and with the formality of a text, as well as with features of the entity. Overall, the results of this research show a varied interplay between prominence and patterns of coreference, with different manifestations at different levels of linguistic structure and results that can sometimes be extended crosslinguistically.