Reference and definite referring expressions

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Definite referring expressions have been studied almost exclusively with respect to their ability to uniquely identify objects. Based on examples of NPs with the drawn from naturally occurring texts, I argue that definite referring expressions serve other functions, as well – they indicate the prominence of a referent, the referent’s status as a role function (rather than an individual) or the viewpoint from which the referent is presented. All of this information contributes to the construction of discourse referents and is therefore part of the speech act of referring. In general, speakers do not talk about objects in a neutral fashion, but rather attempt to induce addressees to accept them into the discourse under different guises. Thus, the notion of a successful reference cannot be restricted to cases in which an object is uniquely identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-207
Number of pages19
JournalPragmatics and Cognition
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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