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Referring in Discourse

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Referring in Discourse Student Name Linguistics Professor Name September 22, 2012

Referring in Discourse

Students Last Name 2 Referring in Discourse by Arthur Sullivan

In his article Referring in Discourse, Arthur Sullivan confronts the two contending approaches to reference in modern linguistics, one being the traditional two-place contextindependent paradigm of Bertrand Russell with ensuing semantics/pragmatics interface, and the other, the communication-intention tradition which emphasizes the speakers reference and context influence, finding its extreme expression in the total denial of semantic meaning as such. In effect, this long-running debate revolves around the very fundamental notions of semantics and its relation to pragmatics, therefore the article encompasses a profound account of the linguistic conceptions involved. I. The notion of reference

The author defines reference as the relation existing between a use of a linguistic expression and an object, a phenomenon or a property it denotes. It is the core case of the language-reality connection, thus the new developments in its understanding may affect the conceptions of the nature of language itself. The notion of reference is inseparably bound to the differentiation between singular propositions, involving a particular individual, and general propositions, not specifying a person. In terms of object relation they may also be called objectdependent and object-independent respectively. General propositions are considered to consist of quantificational relations among various concepts, whereas the nature of singular propositions has long been contested and is still approached from different angles. II. Semantics/pragmatics interface: classical view

Semantics is generally defined as the study of linguistic meaning, whereas the object of pragmatics is the speech acts. In most cases, the information within a sentence includes distinctly demarcated semantic and pragmatic components. However, what is pragmatically conveyed is context-dependent to a great extent; moreover, the semantic expression does not necessarily

Referring in Discourse

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helps determine it, as even a simple sentence, easily comprehensible for all the language carriers, may express indefinite number of actual messages depending on the situation in question. Thus, semantic and pragmatic competences are interrelated, but discrete subcomponents of our language use in communication. Classically, reference has been interpreted as a two-place relation between certain tokens and what they conventionally denote, which is most evident in the so-called referring expressions. Proper names are conceived as the very essence of referring expressions, as they explicitly single out a particular referent. The author claims this view to be apparently oversimplified, specifically pointing out that it fails to embrace even the situations of homonymy and usage of demonstrative and personal pronouns, which are indexical by their nature, i.e. indicate different referents in different situations. Therefore, this approach is adjusted for such cases by distinguishing non-indexical referring expressions (specify a constant referent) and indexical referring expressions (specify a constant relation between speaker and referent). III. The Russells approach

The question whether the referring expressions must be semantically atomic, i.e. having no meaningful proper parts, is highly debatable. The resolutely positive answer to this question was given in the seminal works by B. Russell, whose views A. Sullivan designates as the Russelian orthodoxy. The philosopher fundamentally considered reference as a stipulative connection between an expression and a referent/role. He drew a significant distinction between referring and denoting: while referring is a basic, semantically atomic and conventional relation, denoting is quantificational and deals with the satisfaction of compositionally determined, semantically defined properties. Another influential Russells statement is that sentences with denoting expressions as a subject semantically should be viewed as general, not singular, propositions, as they concern concepts and properties rather than reference to certain individuals.

Referring in Discourse IV. The concept of speakers reference

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The Russels theory came to be widely attacked in the second half of the 20th century, with Peter Strawson being the first to question the very idea of referring expressions as an exclusive class of singular terms expressing singular propositions. He asserts that the classification of a proposition as general or singular is not in the least measure determined by context-independent semantic meaning of the expressions: it is totally determined by the speakers contextual communicative intentions. The proponents of Strawsons approach came to view reference as a complex four-place relation, involving a speaker, an expression, an audience, and a referent. They consider the oversimplified two-place construct to be only relevant to formal languages theorizing, but absolutely discreditable in relation to natural languages. Strawsons followers, often called ordinary language or communication-intention linguists, thus shift the focus of reference theory from semantics to pragmatics. V. Revision of Russells approach: P. Grice and S. Kripke.

The answer to Strawsons challenge was given by P. Grice and S. Kripke with minimum refinement of the orthodox approach: they drew the long-needed distinction between semantic meaning and speakers meaning, with their more specific instances being semantic reference and speakers reference. This two references may coincide in sentences expressing general propositions, but in case of object specification by the speaker, his/her meaning is mostly not literal. Grice and Kripke thus struggle to prove that semantic reference should still be conceived as a context-independent semantic property so far as it concerns atomic expressions, but when a speaker is singling out a certain topic in molecular expressions conveying a singular proposition, we have to deal with the speakers reference. This revision of the classical approach vindicates the traditional division between semantics and pragmatics focus.

Referring in Discourse VI. Contextualist movement: underdetermination argument

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Despite these refinements, the tense debate between the formal-semantics tradition and the communication-intention tradition still continues, although in some aspects these two approaches have been synthesized. The main stumbling point in this struggle lies in whether semantic meaning determines, or underdetermines, truth conditions. Contextualists, similar to communication-intention theorists, emphasize the dynamic adaptability of linguistic behaviour in everyday communication. One weighty argument they put forward against formal semantics theories is that of semantic underdetermination. It is built upon the most ubiquitous cases of communication when semantic meaning diverges with our perception of the expressed proposition. It demonstrates the malleability of lexicon which may shrink or expand drastically to adequately represent a certain context. Contextualists thus totally disqualify the idea of pragmatics/semantics interface, holding that all of our communicative processes engage pragmatic interpretative procedures. VII. Conclusions

For decades now it has been apparent that the traditional reference theories fail to embrace all the situations of natural language communication due to their disregarding the immense influence context exerts on reference. The recognition of a distinct class of indexical referring expressions necessitates Kaplans character/content distinction. The speakers reference may be integrated in the classical frame, as in the model of Grice and Kripke. However, the underdetermination argument still has not been answered by formal semanticists adequately. So far it is evident to all the parties of the debate that referring is discourse is pervasively context-dependent and the speakers reference can be applied to any linguistic expression. This debate inevitably involves the opposition of semantics and pragmatics, putting into question the very idea that we can draw a line between these two domains at all.