LINGUIST List 13.847

Wed Mar 27 2002

Diss: Discourse Analysis: Epstein "Discourse..."

Editor for this issue: Karolina Owczarzak <>


  1. repstein, Discourse Analysis: Epstein "Discourse and Definiteness"

Message 1: Discourse Analysis: Epstein "Discourse and Definiteness"

Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 22:17:52 +0000
From: repstein <>
Subject: Discourse Analysis: Epstein "Discourse and Definiteness"

New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: University of California at San Diego
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed 
Degree Date: 1994

Author: Richard Epstein 

Dissertation Title: 
Discourse and Definiteness: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives

Linguistic Field: Discourse Analysis

Subject Language: 
English, Havasupai-walapai-yavapai, Old French

Dissertation Director: Suzanne Kemmer

Dissertation Abstract: 

Nearly all previous theories of definiteness treat articles as
strictly referential items. Thus, indefinite articles are standardly
analyzed as indicating that a referent exists, but is novel in the
discourse, or not uniquely identifiable to the hearer; definite
articles presuppose the existence of a referent, and also indicate
that the speaker assumes that the referent is familiar, or uniquely
identifiable to the hearer.

The main argument of this dissertation is that referential theories
provide only partial accounts of the meaning and distribution of the
articles. In addition to their referential function, the articles
possess an expressive function -- they may be used to convey the
speaker's subjective attitude towards a referent, including such
notions as prominence, (de)emphasis, viewpoint, etc., even in
situations in which the referential "rules" do not hold. Focusing
principally on the definite article, a wide range of evidence, drawn
from naturally occurring discourse in English, Old French, and Jamul
Diegueno (Yuman), is adduced in support of this conclusion. The
analysis that emerges combines both synchronic and diachronic
perspectives into a coherent discourse-pragmatic framework for
understanding the many subtle shades of meaning conveyed by the

After an Introduction and a literature review, Chapter 3 describes the
use of the articles in noun-name appositions in English. Chapter 4
gives a detailed typology of the various expressive uses of the
definite article in English. It is shown that the analysis of "the" as
a marker of prominence correctly predicts the existence of constraints
on the use of the articles that are unexpected under referential
theories. These constraints suggest that the expressive meanings of
the articles are basic, i.e. not derived pragmatically from the
referential meanings. Expressive uses of the indefinite article in
English are also examined, in the form of second mention
indefinites. Chapter 5 shows that the definite articles in Old French
and Jamul Diegueno behave similarly to the definite article in
English, exhibiting both a referential and an expressive function. The
hypothesis that definite articles possess an expressive function leads
to a plausible account of their diachronic semantic development from

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