"The popular orange vegetables" : culture, context and definite descriptions

Scott, Kate (2018) "The popular orange vegetables" : culture, context and definite descriptions. In: 8th International Symposium on Intercultural, Cognitive and Social Pragmatics (EPICS VIII) : "Communication, Culture and Cognition"; 02 - 04 May 2018, Seville, Spain. (Unpublished)


This paper considers how so-called journalist epithet uses of definite descriptions fit into a relevance-theoretic approach to reference (Wilson, 1992; Powell, 2010; Scott, 2010). In an infamous example, a draft of a newspaper article used the description “The popular oranges vegetables” in an article on the health benefits of carrots. Examples (1)-(5) are from a Daily Mail article about Victoria Beckham: (1) The 40-year-old posted a picture on Instagram … (2) …the former Spice Girl's prestigious cap. (3) The British fashion star flaunted her slender legs in her well-cut red dress… (4) The former pop star seems to have been… (5) …the humorous Brit shared a cleverly edited picture of herself… According to Ariel (1990, pp. 33-34) ‘definite descriptions...are used to retrieve relatively inaccessible antecedents’ and ‘the amount of guidance the addressee is supplied with stands in inverse relation to the degree of Accessibility’. Journalistic epithets seem to be an exception to this generalisation; they are generally rich in conceptual content and yet the antecedents to which they refer are highly accessible in the discourse context. In this paper I consider the contribution that the conceptual content in these journalistic epithets makes to relevance. While not required for the derivation of the proposition expressed, the content of the description may achieve relevance in its own right via what Powell (2010, p. 29) calls the “derivational intention”. In this paper, consider cases where the descriptive content in the definite description either adds informational content to the reader’s conceptual file for the intended referent, or adds a layer of activation to an already-held assumption. In both cases the content of the description may combine with existing cultural and contextual assumptions, resulting in the derivation of implicatures not otherwise available. Ariel, M. (1990). Accessing Noun Phrase Antecedents. London: Routledge. Powell, G. (2010). Language, Thought and Reference. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan. Scott, K. (2010). The relevance of referring expressions: the case of diary drop in English. London: University College London. Wilson, D. (1992). Reference and relevance. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, 4, 167-191.

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