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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Information structure: linguistic, cognitive, and processing approaches

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Abstract Language form varies as a result of the information being communicated. Some of the ways in which it varies include word order, referential form, morphological marking, and prosody. The relevant categories of information include the way a word or its referent have been used in context, for example, whether a particular referent has been previously mentioned, and whether it plays a topical role in the current utterance or discourse. We first provide a broad review of linguistic phenomena that are sensitive to information structure. We then discuss several theoretical approaches to explaining information structure: information status as a part of the grammar; information status as a representation of the speaker's and listener's knowledge of common ground and/or the knowledge state of other discourse participants; and the optimal systems approach. These disparate approaches reflect the fact that there is little consensus in the field about precisely which information status categories are relevant, or how they should be represented. We consider possibilities for future work to bring these lines of work together in explicit psycholinguistic models of how people encode information status and use it for language production and comprehension. WIREs Cogn Sci 2013, 4:403–413. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1234 This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language in Mind and Brain Psychology > Language

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