You are on page 1of 7

Reference and inference

BASIC CONCEPTS
reference: act in which a speaker/writer uses linguistic forms to enable a listener/reader to identify something (words don't refer, people do) referring expressions
- proper nouns ('Shakespeare', 'Hawaii') - definite noun phrases ('the author', 'the island') - indefinite noun phrases ('a man', 'a woman', 'a beautiful place') - pronouns ('he', 'she', 'them')

The choice of expression depends largely on what the speaker assumes the listener already knows (in shared visual contexts -> deictic expressions) inference: as there is no direct relationship between entities and words, the listener's task is to infer correctly which entity the speaker intends to identify by using a particular referring expression.
- can use vague expressions ('the blue thing', 'that icky stuff', 'whatsisname') - can use expressions focusing on one feature ('Mister Aftershave is late today)

reference needs to use objectively correct naming, but can work with locally successful choices of expression
Hauptseminar Introduction to Pragmatics
http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html

Reference and inference


REFERENTIAL AND ATTRIBUTIVE USE
Not all referring expressions have identifiable physical referents indefinite noun phrases can refer to
a physically present entity: 'There's a man waiting for you' an unknown entity assumed to exist: 'He wants to marry a woman with lots of money' an entity that does not exist: 'We'd like to sign a nine-foot-tall basketball player'

use in b. (entity only known in terms of descriptive properties) is an attributive use meaning 'who/whatever fits the description' referential use has one specific entity in mind (Donnellan 1966) attributive use is also possible with definite NPs: 'There was no sign of the killer' (when talking about a mysterious death, referential use when a particular person had been identified, chased into a building, but escaped) expressions themselves do not have reference but are invested with referential function in a context by a speaker/writer

Hauptseminar

Introduction to Pragmatics

http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html

Reference and inference


NAMES AND REFERENTS
convention between all members of a cultural/language community: collaboration of the intention to identify and the recognition of intention 'Shakespeare' does not refer only to a specific person:
Can I borrow your Shakespeare? Yeah it's over there on the table

conventional set of entities (e.g. things the writer produced)


Shakespeare takes up the whole bottom shelf We're going to see Shakespeare in London I hated Shakespeare at school

'the cheese sandwich' can refer to a person


Where's the cheese sandwich sitting? He's over there by the window

pragmatic connection between proper names and objects conventionally associated within a socio-culturally defined community

Hauptseminar

Introduction to Pragmatics

http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html

Reference and inference


THE ROLE OF CO-TEXT
The ability to identify intended referents does not just depend on the understanding of the referring expression, but is aided by the linguistic material, or co-text, accompanying it
Brazil wins World Cup

('wins World Cup' limits the range of possible interpretations) the referring expression provides a range of reference, a number of possible referents
The cheese sandwich is made with white bread The cheese sandwich left without paying

co-text: linguistic part of the environment in which a referring expression is used context: physical environment and (speech) conventions, e.g., a restaurant
The heart-attack mustn't be moved (hospital) Your ten-thirty just cancelled (dentist) A couple of rooms have complained about the heat (hotel)

conventions may differ from one social group to another reference is a social act in which the speaker assumes that the word/phrase chosen to identify an object/person will be interpreted as the speaker intended (not simply a relationship between the meaning of a word/phrase and an object/person in the world)

Hauptseminar

Introduction to Pragmatics

http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html

Reference and inference


ANAPHORIC REFERENCE I
In talking and writing we have to keep track of who or what we are talking about for more than one sentence at a time
In the film, a man and a woman were trying to wash a cat. The man was holding the cat while the woman poured water on it. He said something to her and they started laughing.

initial/introductory reference is often indefinite ('a man', 'a woman', 'a cat') subsequent reference with definite NPs ('the man, 'the cat', 'the woman') or with pronouns ('it', 'he', 'she') Reference to already introduced referents is called anaphoric reference (initial expression: antecedent - subsequent expression: anaphor) - anaphoric reference need not be exactly identical to antecedent:
Peel and slice six potatoes. Put them in cold salted water. ('them' now refers to 'the six peeled and sliced potatoes')

- sometimes reversal of antecedent-anaphor order.


I turned the corner and almost stepped on it. There was a large snake in the middle of the path.

cataphoric pattern ('it' is a cataphor)


Hauptseminar Introduction to Pragmatics
http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html

Reference and inference


ANAPHORIC REFERENCE II
While definite nouns and pronouns can act as anaphors, ellipsis can as well (zero anaphor)
Peel an onion and slice it. Drop the slices into hot oil. Cook for three minutes. The last utterance 'Cook for three minutes' works with the expectation that the listener will be able to infer that the speaker intends to identify the peeled onion slices

It is possible to make inferences when anaphoric expressions are not linguistically connected to their antecedents.
I just rented a house. The kitchen is really big We had Chardonnay with dinner. The wine was the best part. The bus came on time, but he didn't stop I just rented a house. The kitchen is really big requires the inference that if x is a house, then x has a kitchen to make an anaphoric connection knowledge in the listener is assumed (can be specific, e.g. one must know that Chardonnay is a wine, can lead to lack of grammatical agreement (bus - he)) the social dimension of reference is tied to the effect of collaboration - conversation partners must have something in common/share something (social closeness)

Successful reference means that an intention was recognized, via inference, indicating a kind of shared knowledge and hence social connection.
Hauptseminar Introduction to Pragmatics
http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html

Reference and inference


ANALYSIS EXERCISE
The following text was found on the back wall of an airline toilet (in an American Airlines plane): PLEASE USE THE TRASH CONTAINER FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN TOILET PAPER

What are possible interpretations of this? What is the most likely interpretation and what is necessary to arrive at it? The following notice was found on the back wall of the mens toilet in the Universidade Federal de Brasilia SEA EDUCADO, JOGUE O PAPEL NO LIXO (Be educated, throw the paper in the waste basket) What is the most likely interpretation here? Is the note ambiguous? How is understanding of these contradictory messages dependent on the context? What does anything other in the American notice refer to? What is the paper referred to in the Brazilian notice?

Hauptseminar

Introduction to Pragmatics

http://ifla.uni-stuttgart.de/~jilka/index.html