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date: 20 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

How do speakers get other people to understand what they are talking about? Language wouldn’t succeed unless we were able to refer to ideas and things in the world, and get other people to understand them. Yet this human ability is complex, not least because it requires speakers and addressees to pay attention to context. This chapter reviews research on reference and informativeness in communication. It outlines the problem of referential choice, that is, how speakers select from the variety of expressions available to them. It then compares findings from two previously distinct literatures—pragmatic informativeness and discourse-based models of reference—and discusses how each has investigated (i) speakers’ choice of referring expressions; and (ii) how speakers’ choices affect addressees. It also examines processing, by reviewing the constraints affecting referential choice, both those associated with interlocutors themselves and those stemming from the referents under discussion. It concludes by raising some of the outstanding questions in linguistic reference.

Keywords: Gricean pragmatics, models of reference, pragmatic informativeness, pronouns, referring expressions

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