Determiners, Entities, and Contexts
UNISYS CORP PAOLI PA PAOLI RESEARCH CENTER
Pagination or Media Count:
I am concerned with the relationship between the forms of linguistic expressions noun phrases in particular, and the discourse entities to which they refer. That is, when does a noun phrase introduce a new referent into the discourse My concern in particular is to specify the role that the discourse context plays in answering this question. A simple first approach to the relationship between noun phrases and discourse entities might suggest that definite noun phrases refer to entities which are assumed to be mutually known to the speaker and hearer, and indefinite noun phrases refer to entities which are not mutually known, and thus, that discourse context plays no role at all. This discussion will point out problems with this approach for both definite and indefinite noun phrases. I will describe examples where definite noun phrases are used to introduce new referents, and, conversely, where indefinite noun phrases do not introduce new referents. In the first case, the local focus structure provides a guide to recognizing that a new entity is involved, and in the second case, the recognition that no new entity is introduced is based on the givennew status of propositions in the discourse. I will begin by describing certain definite descriptions that introduce new entities. I will then describe some examples where indefinite descriptions do not introduce new entities. In each case, I will discuss some related processing issues. I will restrict the current discussion to deal with cases where the mutual knowledge is based on the discourse context, rather than on knowledge that the speaker and hearer bring to an interaction. In the cases of indefinites, I will also restrict my discussion to sentential contexts where an indefinite could introduce a new entity in other words, to specific contexts, as distinguished from non-specific contexts as discussed in Prince1981.