Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Anaphoric Demonstratives and Their Antecedents in English Academic Discourse

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Anaphoric Demonstratives and Their Antecedents in English Academic Discourse

Article excerpt


This paper investigates the distribution and specific properties of anaphoric demonstratives with directly recoverable antecedents in English academic discourse. By analyzing 359 tokens of demonstrative reference of this, that and it with directly recoverable antecedents from the academic section of the online corpus COCA, the paper finds that the general frequency of demonstratives in English academic discourse is that this is more frequent than it and then it is more frequent than that. The main reason underlying this order is due to the different functions of this, that and it to mark topics. These functions correlate with features or purposes of academic discourse. About the types of antecedents, the paper finds that most common antecedents of this are non-nominal and most common antecedents of it and that are nominal. What's more, three different semantic relations between demonstratives and their antecedents are recognized in this paper: direct coreference, indirect coreference and labeling or rephrasing relations. The paper suggests that the underlying motivation for the interaction between anaphoric demonstratives and their antecedents is the writer's perception of events in temporal order.

Keywords: anaphoric demonstratives, recoverable antecedents, English academic discours

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1. Introduction and Literature Review

Since Lakoff(1974) treated English demonstratives such as this and that under three categories: spatio-temporal, discourse and emotional deixis, the discourse functions of this and that have attracted many linguists' attention. Two main approaches to study demonstratives are the proximity approach and the focus approach.

The proximity approach suggests that the choice of demonstratives this and that relies primarily on relative distance from the speaker. The choice of this and that centers around the speaker as the primary locus of referential information, with this typically denoting some entity that is "near the speaker" and that an entity that is "far from the speaker" or "remote" (Fillmore, 1997; Halliday & Hasan, 1976; Huddleston, 1984; Kaplan, 1989; Levinson, 1983; Quirk et al., 1985; Ramsey, 1968; etc.). However, the proximity approach is "a static model governing the choice of one demonstrative over the other" (Strauss, 1993, p. 403) and "exactly how the spatial proximity/nonproximity distinction should be extended to account for all the various uses of this and that has not been made fully explicit yet" (Lakoff, 1974, p. 355).

Recognizing these problems, some researchers try to find an alternative account-the focus approach for the phenomenon of demonstratives. In the focus approach, focus is the most critical factor in the speaker/writer's choice of demonstratives (Kirsner, 1979; Linde, 1979; Sidner, 1983; Strauss, 1993). Drawing on Kirsner's theory of High vs. Low Deixis, Strauss (1993) sets up a focus frame work on the notion of degree of referential focus as being the primary motivating factor behind the choice of demonstratives, with this signaling High focus, that Mid focus and it referentially Low focus (Strauss, 1993). Though this focus approach is more interactive and it takes into account communicative factors, including the hearer, the relationship between interlocutors, it does not give a specific criterion to classify the degree of focuses.

The proximity and focus approach can explain some usages of demonstratives, but these two accounts have "paid too much attention to the use or function in discourse and made little of a variety of forms in demonstratives" (Kim, 2006, p. 189) and they ignore the relationship between demonstratives and their antecedents in discourse. Considering this, Kim (2000, 2006) makes a distinction between four types of English demonstratives for semantic and syntactic reasons: this/that as pro-forms, as "reduced" NPs, as demonstrative adjectives and determinative-that in terms of the presence or absence of their head nouns and the different nature as pro-forms and explores the semantic and or/syntactic properties of the demonstratives. …

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