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AUTHOR: Barbara Abbott TITLE: Reference SERIES: Oxford Surveys in Semantics & Pragmatics PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2010
Maria Averintseva-Klisch, Deutsches Seminar, University of Tübingen
The book ''Reference'' by Barbara Abbott (in the following ''the author'') is the second one in the series ''Oxford Surveys in Semantics and Pragmatics''. Accordingly, the aim of the book is to give an introductory, albeit detailed and ambitious, overview of the topic and a critical survey of the research on linguistic reference in the last decades. The intended audience of the series are ''researchers in linguistics and related areas'' (General Preface, p. xiii), and correspondingly the book is of interest for a specialist and still readable for an undergraduate student as well as for an interested amateur.
The book comprises 11 chapters, a list of references and a person and subject index. The first chapter, ''Introduction'', introduces two main concepts of referring: reference as a semantic phenomenon, relating expressions directly to entities in the world or in some representation, and reference as a pragmatic phenomenon, being at least a three-place relation between a speaker, a linguistic expression and an entity.
In ch. 2, ''Foundations,'' the author gives a succinct and informative overview over the beginnings of modern semantics and the work of Mill (1843), Frege (1892) and Russell (1905). She introduces the main terms going back to this work and compares the three approaches especially with regard to the dichotomy of sense and reference in that she exemplarily evaluates the respective analyses of definite descriptions and proper names. The following chapter 3, ''Subsequent developments,'' deepens the semantic background given before in that it introduces the issues of scope and quantification, extensionality and intensionality, and proposition as the main semantic unit. Ch. 4, ''The proper treatment of quantification,'' then presents briefly two influential semantic theories of the second half of the 20th century, Gricean 'said' vs. 'implicated' distinction and Montague Grammar. The latter is presented as detailed as possible for a book serving as an introduction to the research on reference.
The subsequent four chapters are devoted in more detail to the most important groups of NPs that are traditionally seen as referential expressions: proper names, definite descriptions (including particular and generic NPs), pronouns and demonstratives. Ch 5, ''Proper names,'' discusses the problem of the (non)descriptional character of proper names, and reviews the most important approaches to names starting again with Mills (1843), over Searle's ''cluster view,'' Kripke's arguments against descriptional theories to Kaplan's concept of rigid designation, mentions problems of each account, and sketches two newer attempts to their solution (hidden indexical view and pragmatic view). The author herself opts for constant individual concepts being the meaning of proper names. In ch. 6, ''Definite descriptions'', she again gives a concise review of the research on definite descriptions from Mills over Donnellan to present day research, concentrating especially on the question whether definite descriptions are always referential, and whether the distinction between reference and quantification can really be maintained as a clear-cut one. In this context the distinction between semantic and pragmatic view on reference is again alluded to, and some arguments for the semantic concept are given. Donnellan's referential vs. attributive distinction is introduced, and indefinite descriptions are used as a comparison. In ch. 7, ''Plurals and generics,'' semantic peculiarities of plural and mass NPs are discussed. The author sketches possible readings of plurals and mass terms and their interplay with scope ambiguities. The concept of genericity is overviewed, whereby Carlson's individual level vs. stage level distinction and different kinds of generics in the sense of Krifka et al (1995) are accounted for. Ch. 8, ''Indexicality and pronouns,'' turns to particular kinds of NPs, personal and demonstrative pronouns and deictic expressions; the difference between denotation and reference, crucial for proper names, is shown to play a role also for these NPs. The indexicality and the individual concepts analyses of demonstratives as well as the free variable and the dynamic semantics approaches to personal pronouns are briefly sketched, and the issues of quantificational and non-quantificational binding are brought up in this connection.
Ch. 9, ''Definiteness, strength, partitives, and referentiality'' is first and foremost devoted to the question of the parameters licensing definiteness. The author discusses two concepts proposed for definiteness, uniqueness and familiarity. For uniqueness, she argues that there are in fact two concepts of uniqueness: semantic uniqueness, if there is only one possible referent matching the description, and referential uniqueness, i.e. only one thing being referred to by the speaker. The author shows how different kinds of definite descriptions -- proper names, definite descriptions, pronouns and demonstratives -- fit with these two kinds of definiteness. In this context some formal details of the representation of definite NPs are given, e.g. type shifting and type e account of definites.
The penultimate chapter, ch. 10 ''NPs in discourse'' takes a different point of view on reference, leaving the issue of the reference of isolated expressions and turning to the referential use of NPs in the discourse. Starting with the well-known donkey pronoun case, the author gives a brief overview of the beginnings of dynamic semantics and of models for the choice of a particular referential expression in discourse. On 10 pages, the ideas of Prince (1981, 1992) on different kinds of givenness, as well as Accessibility Theory and Givenness Hierarchy are reviewed. This review is inevitably very short, and is bound to leave influential discourse theories crucially concerned with reference like SDRT (Asher & Lascarides 2003) or Centering (Walker et al. 1998) unmentioned or only referred to in a footnote. The author herself remarks that ''each of these topics [like choice of actual referential expression in discourse, discourse referents vs. entities in the world, coreference in discourse etc.] deserves much more consideration than we can give it here'' (p. 261). Still, the presentation pinpoints the most important issues and supplies necessary references for further reading. The discussion of the status of the referent as an entity in (some) world or in a mental representation (discourse referent) and the implications of either accounts for the semantic theory of reference concludes the chapter.
The last chapter of the book, ch.11, ''Taking stock'', is intended to sum up and to resolve the ''tension between the semantic conception of reference and the pragmatic conception of reference'' (p. 268). This is done in favour of the semantic view; in particular, the author argues for a plausible concept of semantic reference as reference to variable or constant individual concepts (these being functions from possible situations to individuals), cf. p. 280 .
As the author puts it, she intended a book on reference ''accessible to all'' (p. 1), and the great merit of this book is that it is really readable and enjoyable for an undergraduate student as well as for a an advanced expert. The book combines the clarity and the wide orientation crucial for a good introduction with the in-depth presentation of chosen fine-grained issues and rather complicated and specific formalisms. The latter are presented step-by-step and commented in a way that is always understandable and never trivial. The book is a comprehensive introduction into the main issues of NP semantics embracing e.g. definite and indefinite NPs, specificity, genericity, proper names and quantificational NPs. In addition, it introduces its reader to important instruments of formal semantics as Montague grammar and lambda calculus as well as to general issues as modeling possible worlds, scope ambiguities or embedding in propositional attitude contexts. This introduction is done in a clear and well-illustrated way. Especially the chapters 2-4 offer a broad and at the same time profound theoretic background in formal semantics. Thus the book is best suited as an informative and accessible introduction into formal semantics in general or an overview over NP semantics in particular. What makes the book especially valuable (not only for students!) is the explicitness of the argumentation, e.g. in computing and then comparing the actual theory-internal consequences of different analyses of definite NPs in ch. 6. In an equally explicit and consequent way the author distinguishes from the very beginning (p. 3ff) the concepts of ''semantic reference'' and ''pragmatic reference;'' this distinction is repeatedly picked up in the course of the book, and the respective theoretic implications of both approaches are discussed (ch. 10, 11).
However -- and this is my main criticism of this book --, Abbott concentrates nearly exclusively on the semantic concept of reference, although the author states in the ''Introduction'' that she will discuss both concepts. Her overview stays strongly biased towards the semantic view on reference. Whilst the early milestone works of Mill, Frege, Russell and Strawson are introduced in detail, in the following the comparable attention is given only to the work of logicians, philosophers and formal semanticists grounding on this early base (either critically or not) and regarding reference as a property of expressions that plays a role in the compositional sentence semantics. In the last chapter the author criticizes that for Bach (2006) pragmatic reference serves only as a tool for the definition of semantic reference: if one knows how an expression can be used for referring, one can conclude about the inherent referential character of this expression: ''the criterion for semantic reference ... is consistency in pragmatic reference'' (p. 278). This leads her to opt against Bach's approach and against what Salmon (2004: 239, n.13) called a ''speech-act centered conception of semantics'' and for an ''expression-centered'' one (p. 279, fn. 11). Intuitively, one does agree with this plea as such. But: does it really make sense to reduce the pragmatic concept of reference to a criterion for the definition of semantic reference?
In ch. 9 devoted to definiteness, again the semantic perspective is the only one discussed. However, definiteness and the parameters licensing the use of definite NPs have been extensively investigated in the last decades, both on the theoretical side under the pragmatic perspective, e.g. research on bridging and so-called ''indirect anaphora'' starting with Clark (1977) and on the psycholinguistic side, especially for language comprehension, cf. the overviews in Frazier (2006), Tanenhaus (2007). What I miss are some references to this research.
Only one chapter of 30 pages in a nearly 300-page book is devoted to reference as actually taking place in the discourse (ch. 10 ''NPs in discourse''). To my opinion this does not mirror correctly the ''state-of-the-art perspective'' on reference that is a proclaimed aim of the book (cf. the General Preface, p. xiii). Many crucial issues based on the pragmatic concept of reference has been extensively discussed in the last years; these are thus bound to come too short. Since the paper by Clark and Wilkes-Gibbs (1986) with a programmatic title ''Referring as a collaborative process'', lots of research that could be comprised under the label of ''cognitive approach to referring'' has been done. Under this approach, reference is understood as a collaborative activity of speakers and addressees in whose course extra-linguistic mental representations are activated with the help of linguistic expressions. The main research question, ''how a speaker's intended referent is [identified] by the addressee'' (Fretheim & Gundel 1993, p.7), being part of the broader question of how information conveyed by an utterance is incorporated into a mental model of a discourse, opens new perspectives on reference. Some of the most important issues here, directly concerned with the definition and characteristics of reference, are: coreference and referential anchoring (e.g. Clark 1977) as well as anaphora involving ontological changes, i.e. ''abstract object anaphora'' (Asher 1993), or ''combination anaphora'', cf. a short overview in Schwarz-Friesel (2007); processing of referring expressions (Tanenhaus 2007); or reference in interdisciplinary perspective (Enfield & Stivers 2007). Even in the case one has reasons to favour the semantic concept of reference, the pragmatic and the ''cognitive'' concepts should receive due attention in a ''critical survey of the major approaches'' (General Preface, p. xiii) to reference.
A minor point is the following: the author concentrates explicitly on NPs as referring expressions, leaving aside the issue of whether also VPs or APs can refer. This is of course a very feasible limitation, especially as it is stated and motivated in the ''Introduction'' (p. 3). What seems to me to be less reasonable is that implicitly -- as this is the case in virtually all of the discussed examples -- the reference of an NP is taken to be a person, an animal or an artefact (or a corresponding mental object). The ontologic and semantic complications that come with NPs referring e.g. to processes, either due to their lexical semantics, cf. ''inquiry'' in (1), or due to a meaning shift, cf. inferences done when interpreting ''the new book'' in (2), are worth being at least briefly mentioned (see e.g. Pustejovsky 1995, Asher 2007):
(1) The inquiry lasted for several days. (2) John began the new book today.
Of course, it is perfectly justified (and maybe the only possible way) if an author selects certain aspects of a subject and ignores others. But of a general survey entitled just ''Reference'' I would expect a less unilateral approach -- or, at least, a clarifying subtitle or a clear delimitation of the topic of the book with sufficient references to the other concepts of linguistic reference in the introduction. As stated in the last chapter, one of the main aims of this book has been ''to present as clear as possible a picture of what people are talking about when they talk about reference'' (p. 280); as it is, the book rather presents a picture of what semanticists are talking about when they talk about reference, albeit a truly illuminating and clear one.
Asher, Nicholas (1993) Reference to abstract objects in discourse, Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Asher, Nicholas (2007) A web of words: lexical meaning in context. Manuscript, CNRS Toulouse & Univ. of Texas.
Asher, Nicholas & Alex Lascarides (2003) Logics in conversation. Cambridge: CUP.
Bach, Kent (2006) What does it take to refer? In Ernest Lepore & Barry Smith (eds.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy of language, Oxford: Clarendon, 516-554.
Clark, Herbert (1977) Bridging. In Philip Johnson-Laird & Peter Wason (eds.), Thinking. Reading in cognitive science, Cambridge: CUP, 411-420.
Clark, Herbert H. & Deanna Wilkes-Gibbs (1986) Referring as a collaborative process. Cognition 22, 1-39.
Enfield, Nick & Tanya Stivers (2007) Person reference in interaction: linguistic, cultural and social perspectives. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Frazier, Lyn (2006) The big fish in a small pond: accommodation and the processing of novel deﬁnites. Manuscript, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Krifka et al. (1995) Genericity: an introduction. In Gregory Carlson & Francis Pelletier (eds), The Generic book, Chicago: Univ. Press, 1-124.
Pustejovsky, James (1995) The generative lexicon, Cambridge: MIT Press.
Salmon, Nathan (2004) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In Anne Bezuidenhout & Marga Reimer (eds), Descriptions and Beyond, Oxford: OUP, 230-260.
Schwarz-Friesel, Monika (2007) Indirect anaphora in text. In Monika Schwarz-Friesel, Manfred Consten & Mareile Knees (eds), Anaphors in text, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 3-20.
Tanenhaus, Michael K. (2007) Spoken language comprehension: insights from eye movements. In M. Gareth Gaskell (ed), The Oxford handbook of psycholinguistics, Oxford: OUP, 309-326.
Walker, Marylin, Aravind Joshi & Ellen Prince (1998 eds.), Centering Theory in Discourse, Oxford: Clarendon.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Maria Averintseva-Klisch is a researcher at the department of German
linguistics at the Tübingen University. She wrote her Ph.D. on German right
dislocation and its function in the discourse. Her research concentrates in
the first place on the discourse-grammar interface, as well as on semantic,
syntactic and pragmatic issues.