This article provides an extensive overview of the literature related to the phenomenon of non-nominal-antecedent anaphora (also known as abstract anaphora or discourse deixis), a type of anaphora in which an anaphor like “that” refers to an antecedent (marked in boldface) that is syntactically non-nominal, such as the first sentence in “It’s way too hot here. That’s why I’m moving to Alaska.” Annotating and automatically resolving these cases of anaphora is interesting in its own right because of the complexities involved in identifying non-nominal antecedents, which typically represent abstract objects such as events, facts, and propositions. There is also practical value in the resolution of non-nominal-antecedent anaphora, as this would help computational systems in machine translation, summarization, and question answering, as well as, conceivably, any other task dependent on some measure of text understanding.
Most of the existing approaches to anaphora annotation and resolution focus on nominal-antecedent anaphora, classifying many of the cases where the antecedents are syntactically non-nominal as non-anaphoric. There has been some work done on this topic, but it remains scattered and difficult to collect and assess. With this article, we hope to bring together and synthesize work done in disparate contexts up to now in order to identify fundamental problems and draw conclusions from an overarching perspective. Having a good picture of the current state of the art in this field can help researchers direct their efforts to where they are most necessary.
Because of the great variety of theoretical approaches that have been brought to bear on the problem, there is an equally diverse array of terminologies that are used to describe it, so we will provide an overview and discussion of these terminologies. We also describe the linguistic properties of non-nominal-antecedent anaphora, examine previous annotation efforts that have addressed this topic, and present the computational approaches that aim at resolving non-nominal-antecedent anaphora automatically. We close with a review of the remaining open questions in this area and some of our recommendations for future research.