Processing Referentially Ambiguous Pronouns by Adult Learners of English as a Foreign Language

Document Type : Research Papers


Department of English, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Introduction: Processing ambiguous pronouns by L1 speakers of English has been the subject of a great bulk of research. Only a few studies, however, have investigated the ambiguity resolution of pronouns by people for whom English is a second or foreign language. In this study, the researchers employed a picture selection task to explore how adult Iranian EFL learners treated ambiguous pronouns.
Methodology: The materials were 20 experimental items in four different conditions (i.e., manipulation of neither NP1 nor NP2, NP1 manipulation, both NPs manipulation and NP2 manipulation) plus 30 filler items. The principal purpose of this study was to investigate whether manipulation of NPs by attaching extra content/semantic information to them had any impact on their accessibility and how the participants associated ambiguous pronouns with NPs when attempting to choose an antecedent.
Results: The results confirmed the idea that increasing the length of an NP is an important mechanism employed by EFL learners in the process of ambiguity resolution of pronouns. The results also indicated that the NP length mechanism was a better predictor of accessibility in comparison with other mechanisms, such as the primacy effect, the subject rule, and the grammatical role.
Conclusion: The findings demonstrated that when an NP carries extra linguistic information compared to other NPs, it might have a better chance of being selected as the referent of an ambiguous pronoun.