Pronouns in Competition

Invited speakers

  • Isabelle Charnavel (Harvard University)
  • Aya Meltzer-Asscher (Tel Aviv University)
  • Ken Safir (Rutgers University)
  • Sandhya Sundaresan (Leipzig)
  • Shayne Sloggett (Northwestern University)

Go Here for the Program

After Workshop Activities

On Friday, we will gather afterwards at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery (402 Ingalls St). There are other breweries, tasting rooms, restaurants and cafes nearby.

On Saturday, we will lead an expedition to dinner at Olita's Cantina and Grille on the Wharf (49B Municipal Wharf). If you are interested in joining, please let Ivy Sichel know on Friday, so we can give them a fair warning. Otherwise , here are many good options - ask a local!


Long distance dependencies involving pronouns have figured prominently both in theories of competence and in theories of performance. Bringing these diverse lines of inquiry closer together is a challenging, yet fundamental, goal for linguistic theory. In this workshop we propose to study the role(s) that competition and optimality may play in these domains.

The idea that the distribution of pronouns, even some aspects of their interpretation, may be governed by competition with a more optimal alternative, is not new. However, so far relatively little progress has been made towards a general theory of pronominal competitions and especially on the question of how the candidate set for comparison is determined. We propose to broaden the empirical domain of inquiry by considering pronominal competitions of various kinds, and across languages: between pronouns and anaphors, pronouns and gaps in A-bar dependencies, pronouns and demonstratives, overt vs. null pronouns, pronouns and definite descriptions (in ‘Condition C’ effects) and so on.

The idea that competition plays a role in sentence processing has long been recognized and it is inherent in computational models of constraint satisfaction as well as in theories of encoding and retrieval from working memory. In the past decade especially, the empirical breadth of sentence processing research on pronouns has increased dramatically. And interestingly there are many recent experiments on bound pronouns (primarily reflexives, but also resumptives) that give evidence that initial interpretive processes can be selective and non-competitive. So an important goal of the workshop will be to consider whether or how notions of competition that can explain distributional facts about pronouns are related to mechanisms of sentence production and comprehension. We also hope that discussions which take place might guide future explorations of the territory.

This workshop is generously supported by The Humanities Institute at UCSC