On anaphora and discourse deixis

Michel LAUNEY michel.launey at ird.fr
Thu Jul 17 16:58:00 UTC 2014

I think Marta raises an interesting point, which is related to issues 
like thetic vs. categorical judgments (Kuroda 1972) or to the status 
of situational reference in predication. Situation can indeed play a 
role in the topic vs. focus (or theme vs. rheme) pattern, e.g. “John 
is coming” being a possible answer to “What is John doing?” (or “What 
about John?”), “Who is coming?” but also “What’s up?” (or following 
“You know what?”), i.e. giving an information about the situation. It 
is thus clear that situation, though not overtly expressed, can share 
properties with argument phrases, and no wonder admitting anaphora is 
one of them.
Let me add French data. Usually situational reference is expressed by 
ça/c’ (and not by the pronouns il/elle). For instance, Marta’s first 
two examples would be translated, respectively:
“J’aime nager dans la mer, parce que c’est très délassant / ça délasse 
(or: détend) beaucoup”
“J’en ai assez de cet ascenseur, parce qu’il se détraque tout le 
We find the same opposition in “first occurrence” pronouns, in 
situations where the reference is obvious, e.g. coming at the office, 
a worker hears from a colleague “Attention, il est de mauvais poil 
aujourd’hui” (“Be careful, he’s in a bad mood today” – obviously: the 
boss). The same with situational reference: “C’est le printemps!” 
(said on a first warm spring morning) or “C’est la guerre!” (Btw, how 
would it be best in English: “It’s war!” or “that’s war!”?), or, when 
entering an untidy place or a stormy discussion “C’est le bordel, 
ici!” (lit. “it’s the brothel, here!”)
Michel Launey

On Tue, 15 Jul 2014 17:03:19 +0000
  Hartmut Haberland <hartmut at ruc.dk> wrote:
> Stephen, the point I was trying to make about Icelandic sá and 
>þessi, German (stressed) der/das (not the article) and er/es, 
>Biblical Hebrew זֶה and הוּא (according to Ehlich) was exactly what 
>you say: "discourse deixis provides an explanation for the 
>distinction. If we essentially reject discourse deixis, we have to 
>account for these differences in another way". Hartmut
> -----Oprindelig meddelelse-----
>Fra: funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu 
>[mailto:funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu] På vegne af Stephen Lewis
> Sendt: 15. juli 2014 18:16
> Til: Mira Ariel
> Emne: Re: [FUNKNET] On anaphora and discourse deixis
> In English, there seems to be a distinct usage difference between 
> and "that" in discourse reference, and casting them as instances of 
>discourse deixis provides an explanation for the distinction. If we 
>essentially reject discourse deixis, we have to account for these 
>differences in another way.
> Off the top of my head, I don't have any other examples.
> Stephen
> On Sat, Jul 12, 2014 at 5:45 AM, Mira Ariel <mariel at post.tau.ac.il> 
>> Dear Marta,
>> I agree, and this is certainly how *I counted my referring 
>> The reason is that the immediately preceding mention renders the 
>> discourse entity quite accessible, often  more accessible than the 
>> speech situation does. For example, I argued that clearly deictic 
>> expressions (e.g., Hebrew
>> 'I') are pronounced differently, as related to how accessible the 
>> referent is deemed (shorter when highly accessible, longer when less 
>> But you couldn't explain this based on deixis, because the referent 
>> equally accessible in the speech situation. Rather, it's their 
>> previous (and recent) mention in the discourse that may raise their 
>> This shows that what counts is the mental accessibility of the 
>> antecedent which is sensitive to linguistic mentions. I'm pretty 
>> I discuss this issue in: 1998. The linguistic status of the “here 
>> now”. Cognitive Linguistics 9: 3. (pp.189-237). Most likely also in 
>> 2001. Accessibility
>> theory: An overview. In Ted Sanders, Joost Schliperoord and Wilbert 
>> Spooren eds. Text representation. John Benjamins (Human cognitive 
>> processing series). (pp. 29-87).
>> Best,
>> Mira (Ariel)
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu [mailto:
>> funknet-bounces at mailman.rice.edu] On Behalf Of MARTA BEGONA 
>> Sent: Saturday, July 12, 2014 12:24 PM
>> To: Funknet
>> Subject: [FUNKNET] On anaphora and discourse deixis
>> Dear all,
>> After some years’ experience in lecturing on semantics and 
>> and revising references on deixis, I wonder whether many cases often 
>> signalled as instances of discourse deixis are really anaphoric.
>> For example, if I say “I love swimming in the sea because it is very 
>> relaxing”, “it” refers to the situation expressed by “swimming in 
>>the sea”.
>> I see no great difference between the function of “it” in this 
>> and in “I’m tired of this lift because it breaks down every now and 
>> then”, in which “it” is unanimously considered as anaphoric.
>> And I find little difference between these cases and the function of 
>> in
>> “Did you know that Sally finally won the prize? This is great news.”
>> And the same for pronouns such as “it”, “this” or “that” referring 
>> previous or forthcoming long stretches of discourse: why shouldn’t 
>> these pronouns be considered as anaphoric or cataphoric, since they 
>> stand for information transmitted elsewhere in discourse?
>> Similarly, discourse markers such as “however”, “therefore” or “in 
>> addition” could be considered as anaphoric, since they point to the 
>> previous linguistic context.
>> In sum, I feel tempted to restrict discourse deixis to chapter 
>> numbers, section numbers, page numbers and other similar 
>> these need the extralinguistic context (in this case, the document 
>> which they belong) in order to be interpreted.
>> Many thanks in advance for your responses.
>> Best wishes,
>> Marta Carretero
>> Universidad Complutense, Madrid

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