The relevance of referring expressions: the case of diary drop in English

Scott, Kate (2010) The relevance of referring expressions: the case of diary drop in English. (PhD thesis), University College London, .


This thesis offers a pragmatic analysis of subjectless sentences in non-null subject languages, focusing on English ‘diary drop’ (as in ‘Saw a good film yesterday’). In chapter 1, I survey the data and discuss existing syntactic analyses (Haegeman & Ihsane 1999, 2001). While these generally acknowledge the importance of pragmatic factors in an overall account, no detailed investigation of their contribution has been proposed. In chapter 2, I consider subjectless sentences in child language, and suggest that relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson, 1986/95) can shed light on why such utterances occur. In chapter 3, I revisit the adult data, and having established that null subjects function as referring expressions, I consider two pragmatically-oriented approaches to the analysis of referring expressions: Accessibility Theory (Ariel, 1990) and the Givenness Hierarchy (Gundel, Hedberg and Zacharski, 1993). Both adopt the relevance-theoretic framework, but claim that relevance alone is insufficient to account for the data. In chapters 4 and 5, I develop a relevance-based account of referring expressions, and argue that we can do without the machinery of Accessibility Theory and the Givenness Hierarchy on two assumptions: first, that referring expressions encode procedural as well as conceptual meaning (Blakemore 1987, 2002), and second, that this procedural meaning does not identify the intended referent by appeal to considerations of Accessibility or Givenness. An important implication of my account is that the choice of referring expression not only affects reference resolution but can also contribute to what is implicitly communicated by an utterance. I provide detailed evidence for this. In chapter 6, I return to the original null subject data and show that my relevance-based approach sheds new light on how these utterances function in a non-null subject language. In Chapter 7, I draw general conclusions and revisit the conceptual-procedural distinction in light of the analyses proposed.

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