Mental Models as Contexts for Interpreting Texts: Implications from Studies of Anaphora

Journal of Semantics 7 (4):379-393 (1990)


One of the major tenets of the mental models theory of text comprehension is that the model of the text so far provides (part of) the context for understanding the current sentence. Using two sets of findings on the comprehension of anaphoric expressions, we attempt to provide a more specific interpretation for this statement. We first consider the linguistic distinction between deep and surface anaphors, and the proposal that they are interpreted with reference to mental models and to representations of surface form, respectively. Although the linguistic distinction is reflected fairly directly in considered judgements, in on-line processing both aspects of representation are implicated in the interpretation of both kinds of anaphora. The second set of findings shows that the interpretation of texts containing pronouns can be incomplete—only part of the information in the model is used to interpret the anaphor. Readers may effect mappings between role fillers in different clauses of a text or they may effect mappings between names and role fillers. We discuss evidence that these two types of mapping can be carried out separately and that, in certain circumstances, role-to-name mapping in particular may not take place at all.

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Alan Garnham
University of Sussex

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