Anaphoric Reference to Propositions

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Just as pronouns like she and he make anaphoric reference to individuals, English words like that and so can be used to refer anaphorically to a proposition introduced in a discourse: That’s true; She told me so. Much has been written about individual anaphora, but less attention has been paid to propositional anaphora. This dissertation is a com- prehensive examination of propositional anaphora, which I argue behaves like anaphora in other domains, is conditioned by semantic factors, and is not conditioned by purely syntactic factors nor by the at-issue status of a proposition. I begin by introducing the concepts of anaphora and propositions, and then I discuss the various words of English which can have this function: this, that, it, which, so, as, and the null complement anaphor. I then compare anaphora to propositions with anaphora in other domains, including individual, temporal, and modal anaphora. I show that the same features which are characteristic of these other domains are exhibited by proposi- tional anaphora as well. I then present data on a wide variety of syntactic constructions—including sub- clausal, monoclausal, multiclausal, and multisentential constructions—noting which li- cense anaphoric reference to propositions. On the basis of this expanded empirical do- main, I argue that anaphoric reference to a proposition is licensed not by any syntactic category or movement but rather by the operators which take propositions as arguments. With this generalization in hand, I turn to how such facts can be formally modeled: I review existing systems which track anaphora and/or which make use of propositional variables, and then introduce a new formalism which incorporates insights from these existing systems. Finally, I turn to the interaction between a proposition’s availability for anaphoric ref- erence and its discourse status (in particular, its at-issue status). Contrary to the prevail- ing assumption in the literature, I argue that there is no tight linking between these two properties, and that one of the tests frequently used to diagnose at-issueness in fact di- agnoses only anaphoric availability. I argue that propositional anaphora and at-issueness are distinct, showing that at-issueness is neither necessary nor sufficient to determine a proposition’s anaphoric potential.

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anaphora; at-issueness; discourse referents; propositional anaphora; propositions; Linguistics


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Rooth, Mats

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Whitman, John
Starr, William B.
Murray, Sarah E.

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Ph. D., Linguistics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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