Event and Entity Coreference Across Five Languages: Effects of Context and Referring Expression


  • Luca Bevacqua School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh
  • Sharid Loáiciga CoLab Potsdam, Department of Linguistics, University of Potsdam
  • Hannah Rohde School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh
  • Christian Hardmeier Department of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University




event coreference, entity coreference, multilingual, pronouns, demonstratives


Current work on coreference focuses primarily on entities, often leaving unanalysed the use of anaphors to corefer with antecedents such as events and textual segments. Moreover, the anaphoric forms that speakers use for entity and non-entity coreference are not mutually exclusive. This ambiguity has been the subject of recent work in English, with evidence of a split between comprehenders' preferential interpretation of personal versus demonstrative pronouns. In addition, comprehenders are shown to be sensitive to antecedent complexity and aspectual status, two verb-driven cues that signal how an event is being portrayed. Here we extend this work via a comparison across five languages (English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish). With a story-continuation experiment, we test how different referring expressions corefer with entity and event antecedents and whether verbal features such as argument structure and aspect influence this choice. Our results show widely consistent, not categorical biases across languages: entity coreference is favoured for personal pronouns and event coreference for demonstratives. Antecedent complexity increases the rate at which anaphors are taken to corefer with an event antecedent, but portraying an event as completed does not reach statistical significance (though showing quite uniform patterns). Lastly, we report a comparison of the same referring expressions to refer to entity and event antecedents in a trilingual parallel corpus annotated with coreference.
Together, the results provide a first crosslingual picture of coreference preferences beyond the restricted entity-only patterns targeted by most existing work on coreference. The five languages are all shown to allow gradable use of pronouns for entity and event coreference, with biases that align with existing generalizations about the link between prominence and the use of reduced referring expressions. The studies also show the feasibility of manipulating targeted verb-driven cues across multiple languages to support crosslingual comparisons.