Structure and ostension in the interpretation of discourse deixis

Bonnie Lynn Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines demonstrative pronouns used as deictics to refer to the interpretation of one or more clauses. Although this usage is frowned upon in style manuals (for example Strunk and White (1959) state that “This. The pronoun this, referring to the complete sense of a preceding sentence or clause, cannot always carry the load and so may produce an imprecise statement”), it is nevertheless very common in written text. Handling this usage poses a problem for Natural Language Understanding systems. The solution I propose is based on distinguishing between what can be pointed to and what can be referred to by virtue of pointing. I argue that a restricted set of discourse segments yield what such demonstrative pronouns can point to in the discourse model and a restricted set of what Nunberg (1979) has called referring functions yield what they can refer to by virtue of that pointing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-135
Number of pages29
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1991

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