Cover: What Makes Definite Noun Phrases Definite?

What Makes Definite Noun Phrases Definite?

Published 1968

by Lauri Karttunen


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A continuation of the analysis of referentiality in noun phrases begun in P-3756 and P-3854. There are at least three different cases to be considered. (1) Anything in the immediate environment of the speaker and hearer toward which their attention is directed becomes a discourse referent whether it is explicitly mentioned or not. (2) In every discourse there is a basic set of referents known to all the participants without special identification — such as the earth, the sky, the beach, the city — which are referred to by the definite article [the]. (3) A discourse referent is established without any explicit introduction when its existence is readily inferred in context: reference to "a party" introduces "the hostess"; reference to "a liner" introduces "the captain"; and references to "driving" introduce "the car" and its parts, e.g., "the hood" and "the radiator." A statement such as, "Flying to San Francisco is cheap. The fare is only $13.95," perfectly clear to the hearer, would be difficult to program in terms of the predicate calculus.

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