Archive for the ‘Discourse structure’ Category

Discourse referents in hypothetical worlds

August 26, 2016

The datum here comes from a posting on Facebook with an affecting plea from a young Australian man about same-sex marriage:

The set-up: I don’t have a boyfriend right now, with the indefinite NP a boyfriend, in the scope of negation, so we would ordinarily expect the NP not to establish a discourse referent that later anaphoric expressions could link to. But Hutson goes on with anaphoric he: but one day I would like to ask him to marry me. Definitely a WTF anaphoric reference.


The hunted 95 per cent?

June 4, 2015

Let’s start with:

(1) Hunted for its horns, 95 percent of the population disappeared

This looks like a classic “dangling modifier”. We have a SPAR hunted for its horns (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), but the adjunct doesn’t obey the Subject Rule (doesn’t pick up its referent from the subject of the main clause: (1) doesn’t in fact tell us that 95 percent of the population was hunted for its horns). (On the concepts and terminology, see the material in the Page on “Dangler postings”, especially the “as a SPAR” posting.)

But even without context, (1) is easily understood: 95 percent of the population is a metonymic stand-in for a population of X, and it’s X that was hunted for its horns. But that takes some interpretive work. However, when more discourse context is provided, this work is no longer needed, and I’d expect that readers wouldn’t even notice that (1) is technically a dangling modifier.