Subject, topic, and focus of attention in spoken language


For this project, we analyzed spoken language data (in Spanish and English) according to a theory of focus in discourse, Centering Theory. The aim of this research was to establish rules in the selection of pronouns in discourse (i.e., why a full noun phrase might be chosen over a pronoun to refer to a particular entity).


SSHRC Standard Research Grant, SFU SSHRC Institutional Grant, SFU Discovery Parks Grant, SFU President's Research Grant.


Loreley Hadic Zabala (Ph.D. student), Mayo Kudo (M.A. student).




  • Taboada, M. and L. Wiesemann (2011) The SFU Centering Corpus. A TEI-compliant version of the Centering corpus that we have used for the publications below (especially Taboada and Hadic Zabala, 2008). The corpus is in XML, and contains annotations of 10 conversations (5 English, 5 Spanish, from CallHome), according to different instatiations of Centering Theory. XML conversion by Dennis Sharkey.


  • Taboada, M. and L. Wiesemann (2010) Subjects and topics in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics 42 (7): 1816-1828.
  • Taboada, M. and L. Hadic Zabala (2008) Deciding on units of analysis within Centering Theory. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 4 (1): 63-108. (Pre-publication version, pdf).
  • Taboada, M. (2008) Reference, centers and transitions in spoken Spanish. In J. Gundel and N. Hedberg (eds.) Reference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 176-215. (Draft in pdf format).
  • Hadic Zabala, Loreley and Maite Taboada (2006) Centering Theory in Spanish: Coding Manual. (pdf format).
  • Taboada, M. (2005) Anaphoric Terms and Focus of Attention in English and Spanish. In C. Butler, MLA Gómez-González and S. Doval (eds.) The Dynamics of Language Use: Functional and Contrastive Perspectives. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 195-216.
  • Taboada, M. (2002) Centering and Pronominal Reference: In Dialogue, In Spanish. Proceedings, 6th Workshop on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue, EDILOG. Edinburgh. September 2002: 177-184. Download in pdf format.
  • Taboada, M. (2002) Foco y pronominalización en la lengua hablada: Una primera aproximación. Documentos de Español Actual 3-4: 173-200.


  • Taboada, M. and L. Hadic Zabala (2007) Subjects and topics in conversation. 10th International Pragmatics Conference. Göteborg, Sweden. July 2007.
  • Taboada, M. (2003) Anaphoric terms and focus of attention in English and Spanish. 3rd. Intn'l Contrastive Linguistics Conference. Santiago de Compostela, Spain. September 2003.
  • Taboada, M. (2003) Which referring expression? Using Centering Theory to explain reference in spoken Spanish. Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science. Vancouver. February 2003. (Invited presentation).
  • Taboada, M. (2002) Foco y pronominalización en la lengua hablada. ALFAL, Asociación de Lingüística y Filología de América Latina. Costa Rica. February 2002.