Demonstrative Pronouns as Markers of Indirect Anaphora

Grigori Sidorov
Alexander Gelbukh

Natural Language Laboratory,
Center for Computing Research,
National Polytechnic Institute,
Juan de Dios Bátiz, esq. Mendizabal,
Unidad Profesional Adolfo López Mateos,
Zacatenco, CP 07738, Mexico City, Mexico

{sidorov, gelbukh}



The indirect anaphoric relations in the discourses like “John was eating. The table was dirty” (eat ¬ the table) are discussed. The issue of acceptability of the demonstrative pronouns as markers of such relations is discussed: “John was eating. *This table was dirty” is not possible, while “John was singing. This noise disturbed Peter” is possible. The following rule is proposed: The use of a demonstrative pronoun is possible if and only if the antecedent denotes a process or situation, and the anaphor refers to a part of its lexical meaning.


The problem of anaphoric relations has been discussed in linguistics for a long time and still is on the agenda of the cognitive and linguistic research [Aone and McKee (1993); Carter (1987); Hirst (1981); Kameyama (1997); Mitkov (1997); Indirect Anaphora (1996)]. One of the most non-trivial cases of the anaphoric relations is the so-called indirect anaphora. In this paper, the differences of usage of one class of the indirect anaphora formal markers, namely, demonstrative pronouns are discussed. We show that the possibility of the use of such pronouns depends on the properties of the antecedent (the target of the anaphoric relation, the component referred to), as well as on the relationship between the anaphor (the source of the relation, the component referring to) and antecedent.

One of the first linguists who touched upon the sphere of the indirect anaphora was W. Chafe in his paper [Chafe (1976)]. He described the different ways of information packaging and, while describing definiteness, emphasized the importance of the situations when one detail chains the other, e.g., “I had a look at a new house yesterday. The kitchen was extra large.” Here the usage of the definite article with kitchen is possible because the listener can relate the kitchen with the previously mentioned house.

Later this phenomenon was called indirect (hidden, implicit, associative) anaphora [Indirect Anaphora (1996)]. It is anaphora because it implies a reference of one word in the text to another one; it is indirect because the reference is implicit: the exact antecedent is not explicitly present in the text. Thus, indirect anaphora is a kind of anaphoric relation between words in case when the antecedent conceptually differs from the anaphor, i.e., there is no direct coreference or conceptual identity between them.

Prototypic scenarios

Indirect anaphora can be thought of as an anaphoric relation between a word and an element of a prototypic scenario implied by another word in the text. Note that such an element does not have any surface representation in the text. Similar ideas without further classification as concerned the indirect anaphora can be found in [Shank (1980); Gundel, Hedberg, and Zacharski (1988)].

Let us consider the following examples:

1.     John was eating. The table was dirty.

2.     John died. The widow was mad with grief.

3.     John was buried. The widow was mad with grief.

Here the definite articles are used with the words table and widow. However, these words (and the corresponding concepts) do not appear literally in the discourse before. What is the reason for their definiteness? It can be explained by the existence of the indirect anaphoric relation: eat ¬ table, die ¬ widow, bury ¬ widow. In the first example the antecedent to eat contains in its prototypic scenario a slot for a place with a possible value table. In the second example the verb to die is included in the lexical meaning of the word widow. In the third examples, the concept to die is in common in the lexical meanings of widow and to bury.

There are three possible types of the indirect anaphora depending on the relations between the antecedent and the anaphor:

(1)            The anaphor is a word in the text while the antecedent is an element of a scenario implied by another word; this is the most common case:

(2)            Vice versa, an implied concept makes reference to a word in the text, a rather rare case:

(3)            The reference is made between the implied concepts, an even rarer case:

It is worth noting that the indirect anaphora is possible only at the uppermost semantic level of the situation. E.g., the following discourse is impossible or its meaning is different from the pure anaphora: “*Peter disliked that John was eating here. The table was dirty.” Here, the topmost level situation is “Peter disliked,” and the indirect anaphora to the embedded situation is not possible.

Basic examples

Let us consider in what cases the use of demonstrative pronouns as markers of indirect anaphora is possible, and in what cases it is not.

In this paper we will consider only purely anaphoric use of the demonstrative pronouns, which should be clearly distinguished from their use for implied or explicit contraposition, deictic function, and other uses not related to anaphora.

An example of contraposition is “I bought a house. This kitchen was extremely large” with the meaning ‘in this case the kitchen was large while the other kitchens were not’; in this case, the logical stress is on the pronoun and a special intonation is used. An example of a deictic function is “I bought a house. This kitchen was extremely large” when the speaker means the kitchen inside which he or she is pronouncing this phrase, or points to the kitchen with his or her finger. Another example of the deictic use: “I was buying a house. I counted this money carefully” when the speaker shows the money to the listener. In both cases, the pronouns have nothing to do with anaphora. In these functions, the use of the demonstrative pronouns is possible in any of our examples below, but we do not consider such cases.

The formal markers of indirect anaphora are connected with the category of definiteness. The reason is that the speaker marks the object as definite if he or she considers the listener to be able to identify its referent by explicit or implicit reference. There are two ways to express the definiteness in English: the definite articles and the demonstrative pronouns. Let us consider more examples; impossible variants are marked with an asterisk:[1]

1.     I bought a house. The/*This kitchen (roof, walls) was extremely large.

2.     I bought a house. The/*These dimensions were 20 ´ 20.

3.     I bought a house. The/*This previous owner was happy.

4.     I was buying a house. I counted the/*this money carefully.

5.     I sold a house. What can I do with the/this money?

6.     I bought a house. I liked the/this price.

7.     John was eating. The/*This table was dirty. (The/*These dishes...)

8.     John was eating. It was dark in the/*this forest.

9.     John was eating. The/This food was delicious.

10. John was eating. The/These apples were delicious.

11. John was singing. The/This noise disturbed Peter.

12. John was singing. Peter disliked the/this noise.

13. John was reading. He liked the/this author.

14. John died. The/*This widow was mad with grief.

The use of the definite article is allowed in all cases of the indirect anaphora, while the demonstrative pronoun is possible only in some sentences. In case of usual (direct) anaphora, though, the use of a demonstrative pronoun is nearly always possible, e.g., “I bought a house with a kitchen. The/This kitchen was extremely large.

Use of demonstrative pronouns

The anaphors in our examples have different status in the prototypic scenario of the antecedents. Some of them are parts of the antecedent’s lexical meaning, as in examples 5, 6, and 9, while some are not. The former concepts are implicitly present in the situation named by the antecedent, i.e., are introduced in the discourse at the moment of introduction of the antecedent. E.g., the Random House Webster's dictionary defines the word sell as: “to transfer (goods) to or render (services) for another in exchange for money; dispose of to a purchaser for a price.” So, the words money (as a general concept, not a physical object) and price are parts of the lexical meaning of the word sell.

On the other hand, in the example 1 the word kitchen is not a part of the lexical meaning of house and thus can not be considered as implicitly introduced in the discourse in the first sentence. In the example 4, money in the meaning of a physical object (coins, banknotes) is not a part of the meaning of sell.

This difference correlates with the use of the demonstrative pronouns in our examples. Thus, we can formulate the following rule for the use of the demonstrative pronoun:

The use of a demonstrative pronoun is possible if and only if the following two conditions hold:

(1)  The antecedent denotes a process or situation and

(2)  The anaphor refers to[2] a part of its lexical meaning.

Correspondingly, its use is impossible when the antecedent denotes a thing (object) or the anaphor is not a part of the lexical meaning of the situation referred to by the antecedent.

In the rule, we said that the antecedent refers to a part of the lexical meaning of the antecedent if it is (a) a concept directly included in the prototypic scenario of the antecedent, (b) a more general or more specific concept, i.e., its subtype or a supertype (speaking in linguistic terms, there are hyponymic or hyperonymic relations between concepts), or (c) a metaphor of such a concept. Thus, indirect anaphora can combine with some other phenomena accompanying coreference that does not affect the issue we are interested in.


Now let us show how our rule explains the use of the pronouns in our examples. In the examples 1 to 3, the antecedents denote objects: house ¬ kitchen, house ¬ dimensions, house ¬ previous owner, thus, the use of a pronoun is prohibited. In the examples 4, 7, 8, and 14, the anaphors are not included into the lexical meaning of the antecedents: buy ¬ money (as the physical object), eat ¬ table, eat ¬ forest, die ¬ widow; again, pronouns can not be used here.

On the other hand, in the examples 5, 6, and 9 the rule allows the use of the pronouns. Note the difference in the meaning of the word money in the examples 4 and 5: In the example 4 it is a physical object that is not obligatory in the situation, since for buying, say, a credit card could be used; on the other hand, in the example 5 this word refers to an abstract entity, the price, and thus is a part of the lexical meaning of the verb, since one can not buy or sell without money. So, in the example 4 the demonstrative pronoun is prohibited, while in the example 5 it is allowed.

Examples 12 and 13 illustrate generalization: sing ¬ noise, when the prototypic noun would be singing or song.[3] Example 10 illustrates specification: eat ¬ apples (a kind of food). Example 13 contains a metaphor: read ¬ author (i.e., a book by this author).

Conclusions and future work

We have analyzed the difference of the use of one class of the indirect anaphora formal markers, namely, demonstrative pronoun. A rule for their use was formulated. The conditions of this rule depend on the properties of the antecedent and the relation between the antecedent and anaphor.

We formulated the rule using the concept of lexical meaning. Perhaps it would be more correct to combine this concept with the concept of obligatory/quasi-obligatory valences, because, for example, it is not so clear whether a food is a part of the lexical meaning of the verb to eat (see example 10) or this is its valence. In the future, we plan to analyze these relations.

At the same time, in our article there is no meaningful explanation for one part of the suggested rule. While the second part (the presence in the lexical meaning of antecedent) is explained by implicit introduction into the situation, the first part (the necessity to denote the process or situation, not the object) is empirical at the present moment. It will be necessary to find cognitive grounds for the distinction of processes/situations and objects.

In our future papers, we also will analyze the situation in the languages without articles (like Russian) where it is complicated by ambiguity of the expressions without any pronoun. Also, the broader context probably has some influence on the indirect anaphora and its formal markers.


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* The work done under partial support of DEPI-IPN and SNI, Mexico.

[1] Once again, we suppose a purely anaphoric meaning of the pronouns.

[2] We clarify this term below.

[3] Probably the usage of the demonstrative pronoun in case of generalization is preferable.