Abstract Anaphora – University of Copenhagen

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Abstract Anaphora in Danish (The abstract Det)

Funded by The Danish Research Council for Language and Communication

Project aims

The project's main aim was to develop a formal model over the use of Danish pronominal abstract anaphora.

What are abstract pronominal anaphora?

Abstract pronominal anaphora in Danish comprise the pronouns det (it/this/that), dette (this) and det her (this) when they point back to verb phrases, predicates in copula constructions, clauses, discourse segments or abstract pronouns (the antecedents). These anaphors refer to abstract entities such as events, states, situations, facts and propositions. An exanple of abstract anaphor is the following:

og så prøvede jeg så at gå lidt i svømmehallen og det prøver jeg sådan ind imellem [Samtale med Lægen (Duncker & Hermann, 1996)]
(and then I tried to go a little to the swimming pool and I try once in a while)

The pronoun det in the example has as antecedent the verb clause to g a little to the swimming pool and refers to an activity.

Why are the Danish abstract anaphora interesting

The Danish abstract anaphora are quite frequent, expecially in spoken language, and they refer to the must central concepts in discourse. The Danish abstract anaphora are used in more contexts than the corresponding pronouns in English and in Italian. Defining a model to identify the entities abstract anaphora refer to is important for the automatic process of discourse and it might give a better insight in the cognitive processes involved in the production and reception of discourse where morphologic, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic aspects interact.


The project toke its starting point from Costanza Navarretta's phd dissertation The Use and Resolution of Intersentential Pronominal Anaphora in Danish Discourse. This dissertation indicated that there were aspects about the Danish abstract anaphora that needed further investigation and that could not be accounted for by existing studies on abstract anaphora.

The project was built on cognitive-based theories about the use of referring expressions which all presuppose that a speaker makes an assumption about the status of entities in the addressee's mental state and this influences her/his choice of referring expressions, i.a. (Givón 1983, Prince 1981; Ariel 1988; Gundel et al. 1993).

The project was also built upon existing studies on abstract anaphora, exspecially (Webber,1991; Fraurud 1992; Asher 1993; Gundel et al. 2005).

Abstract anaphora annotation

In the project we were annotating third-person singular pronouns and their function in Danish and, to some extent, Italian data. For abstract anaphors we annotated information such as the anaphors' antecedents, their syntactic type, the referents and their semantic type.

The texts we were annotating comprised EU texts, legal texts, part of The Danish PAROLE corpus and literary texts.

We were also annotating monologues and dialogues from the Danish DanPASS corpus and dialogues from the Italian AVIP corpus.

We used the PALinkA annotation tool developed by Constantin Orasan, University of Wolverhampton.

More information can be found at cst.dk/dad 

Project participants and contact

Costanza Navarretta: costanza @ hum.ku.dk

Sussi Olsen: saolsen @ hum.ku.dk