LINGUIST List 23.2532

Wed May 30 2012

Review: Discourse Analysis; Psycholinguistics; Semantics; Typology: Kibrik (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 30-May-2012
From: Olga Lovick <>
Subject: Reference in Discourse
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AUTHOR: Andrej A. KibrikTITLE: Reference in DiscourseSERIES TITLE: Oxford Studies in Typology and Linguistic TheoryPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2011

Olga Lovick, Interdisciplinary Studies, First Nations University of Canada

SUMMARYIn this extensive monograph, Kibrik tackles discourse reference from thetypological as well as from the cognitive perspective. His aim is to understandthe 'basic referential choice' between full referential devices (i.e. nounphrases) and reduced referential devices (i.e. free pronouns, bound pronouns,and zero), looking at their cross-linguistic variation and at the cognitivefoundations of reference.

Part I is introductory. In Chapter 1, Kibrik lays out definitions of referent,reference, referring/referential expression, referential devices. Mostcrucially, he defines reference as a discourse-oriented phenomenon, not asyntactic one (p. 10). He formulates his goal to unite discourse analysis,typology, and cognitive linguistics in order to arrive at a "realistic andcomprehensive theory of human language" (p. 22). Chapter 2, Kibrik defines hisgoal as the investigation of the basic referential choice between full andreduced referential devices, and limits the study to anaphoric specific definitereference of non-locutor pronouns (p. 34). He briefly summarizes the proposedCognitive Multi-Factorial approach and closes with a distinction betweenreferential devices (whose primary function is to refer) and referential aids(elements with a different primary function which can be used to resolvereferential conflict).

Part II contains five typological chapters on referential devices. Throughout,Kibrik discusses particular patterns and offers a typological perspective bydrawing on studies in the ''World Atlas of Language Structures'' (Haspelmath etal. 2005, 2008). Chapter 3 introduces major types of reduced referentialdevices, viz. bound and free pronouns and zeroes, and shows that languages arenot always internally consistent in their referential choice. Kibrik alsointroduces the important distinction between tenacious pronouns (which co-occurwith co-referential NPs) and alternating pronouns (which do not co-occur withco-referential NPs). The last portion of this chapter is concerned with zeroreference, which appears to be independent of activation (but see Givón 1983 foranother view), syntactic position or semantic role. Chapter 4 is dedicated to anin-depth discussion of pronouns and related devices (demonstratives,classifiers, and social status nouns). He shows that the latter are particularlycommon in languages with zero reference, suggesting that the lack of pronounsleads to drafting of other categories into referential service. Kibrik alsodiscusses pronouns with double reference and pronouns marked for clausalcategories such as TMA or polarity. He proposes a three-way typology withrespect to boundness; the three parameters are the expression of 1. the lexicalmeaning of the verb, 2. clausal categories, and 3. reference. The lastsubsection is concerned with strong, or accented, pronouns. Chapter 5 looks atlanguages that do not consistently choose the same reduced referential device.Kibrik argues against the view (held e.g. by Givón 2001) that this choice isalways due to different levels of activation and claims instead that somelanguages are sensitive to coordination, definiteness, or other factors. Chapter6 is a detailed treatment of bound pronouns, particularly the parameter oftenacity (the ability to occur with a co-referential NP) and its independencefrom boundness. Kibrik argues against the view that bound tenacious pronounsshould be considered agreement markers and discusses in detail the Germanicsystem with both verbal agreement markers and free weak pronouns. The lastsubsection deals with bound zeroes. Chapter 7 focuses on the diachronicdevelopment of bound tenacious pronouns in three language families: Athabascan,Slavic, and Romance, showing that different branches of a language family canundergo different developments.

Part III is dedicated to the discussion of referential aids. In Chapter 8,Kibrik distinguishes ad hoc devices such as semantic incompatibility, fromconventional referential aids, which sort activated referents based on adistinctive feature (p. 294). He discusses in turn absolute stable sortings(taxonomies, noun classes), relative stable sortings (hierarchies), and broad(4th person in Navajo, proximate/obviative systems, and inversion) and narrow(logophoricity, topicality/subjecthood, and activation status) current sortings,considering for each of these where they are found and the locus of expression(on free or bound pronouns or as part of the verb stem). The chapter closes witha classification of referential aids and introduces the locus of its expressionas a typological parameter. Chapter 9 considers the functional load ofreferential aids across languages. Kibrik finds considerable cross-linguisticvariation with respect to both the number of referential aids used by a givenlanguage, and their respective importance. He then pursues the question ofwhether the avoidance of referential conflict is the primary function ofconventional referential aids. Two case studies from Pulaar and Sereer, tworelated Senegalese languages, show that, while the languages have comparablenoun classification systems, only Pulaar uses the system as referential aid.

Part IV presents the Cognitive Multi-Factorial approach (CMF). Chapter 10 beginswith a discussion of attention and working memory and their application todiscourse study. Kibrik summarizes the CMF: various discourse factors (e.g.referential distance, episode boundary, a referent's centrality to the discourseand others) contribute to a referent's activation. Each factor has a numericalvalue; the sum of values for each factor is numerical expression of a referent'sactivation score. Three thresholds of activation can be identified: Above thefirst one, only reduced referential devices are possible; between the first andsecond, reduced devices are preferred; between the second and third, full NPsare preferred; below the third, only full NPs are possible. This numericalapproach, according to Kibrik, solves the problem of circularity inherent inmany approaches to discourse reference. The CMF is applied to a written Russiantext in Chapter 11 and to a written English text in Chapter 12. In bothchapters, Kibrik discusses the impact of various activation factors in eachlanguage. He also introduces two filters which operate independently from theother activation factors: The "world boundary filter" and the "referentialconflict filter". In the conclusion to Chapter 12, Kibrik observes that "[t]hegeneral model of referential choice is supposed to be universal but the set ofactivation factors, their relative numerical weights, and thresholds for theactivation status range are language-specific" (p. 444). Chapter 13 is concernedwith the CMF's significance for cognitive linguistics in general. Kibrikdemonstrates for instance that the sum of activation scores for all activereferents within an elementary discourse unit is rarely greater than 4, which isalso approximately the number of items that can be held in working memory. Healso considers the question of activation decay (= forgetting from workingmemory) and how discourse linguistics can further contribute to cognitivescience. In Chapter 14, Kibrik points out several problems with the methodpresented in Chapters 11 and 12. To address these issues, he employs anartificial neural network, using the activation factors identified earlier asweighted nodes. Kibrik then considers several other corpus studies with similarresults, and finally reports on the application of the CMF to Japanese, a zeroreference language.

In Part V (Chapter 15), the focus is widened to include visual aspects ofreference. Kibrik looks at the related phenomena of deixis and exophora with anemphasis on their link to first-mention and anaphora. He then discussesreference in Russian Sign Language and virtual pointing in Russian speech.

In the final chapter, Chapter 16, Kibrik summarizes his findings, brieflydiscusses aspects of reference that were not included in this study, and offersa preview of future research.

The book also includes an appendix for fieldworkers that may be used as a guideto the collection structured data on reference.

EVALUATIONThe monograph's first goal was to provide an overview over reduced referentialdevices and referential aids in the world's languages. Using discourse examplesfrom over 200 languages, Kibrik amply demonstrates the variety and identifiestypological parameters. He makes extensive use of the studies included in the''World Atlas of Language Structures'' (Haspelmath et al. 2005, 2008) to identifycorrelations between these parameters and to set up typologies based on them. Healso investigates the frequency of particular structures.

Throughout this study, Kibrik discusses a number of very important points thatare highlighted here. First of these is his view of reference as a discoursephenomenon rather than a syntactic one. This is not to say that he disagreeswith the fact that constructions such as zero reference in coordinationstructures in English (shown in (1a)) or the use of reflexive pronouns in thecase of coreferentiality of subject and object (shown in (1b)) have a syntacticmotivation.

(1a) Jill-i went home and Ø/*she-i/*Jill-i went to bed.(1b) Jack-i looked at himself/*him-i/*Jack-i in the mirror.

Instead, he argues, the syntactic patterns illustrated in (1) are largelygrammaticalizations of discourse patterns; syntax is thus a special case ofdiscourse (p. 36). This point is not only theoretically important, but it alsoimpacts the type of data that can be used for the study of reference. Ifreference is viewed as a discourse phenomenon, then it can only be studied usingdiscourse data, not sentences uttered in isolation (or constructed by thelinguist). This constraint is taken very seriously by Kibrik, and much of thedata in this book is taken from natural or naturalistic discourse (whereverconstructed data is used, this is indicated in the discussion of the example).

I did however find the PRESENTATION of data in this part of the book difficultto follow. Textual data is presented in a two-line format. The first linecontains a transcript of the data indicating morpheme breaks, the second linecontains a morpheme gloss. The free translation is given only at the end of theexample, which, due to the length of the textual examples, is frequently on thefollowing page. A randomly picked example of this is the second line of (5.8),p. 173. To accommodate the email format, I do not include the original Masa(Chadic) line. The second line of this example is glossed as shown in (2):

(2) killed-3SG.M-EMPH-GENER 1PL.INCL cook-1PL.INCL-ANT

The free translation of this line appears on the following page (p. 174): 'Sincehe has been killed, we start cooking him'. To someone with no knowledge ofChadic languages, this gloss is not entirely predictable from the morphemeglosses, so in order to follow the points illustrated by this example, I had toflip from data to free translation multiple times, and I had to do this formany, many examples. Presenting discourse data that includes morphemic analysisis notoriously difficult because of the amount of information involved, and Iunderstand the rationale behind presenting the free translation of an example ascoherent text at the end of the example. However including free phrasetranslations as a third line would have facilitated reading this book greatly,and would have been worth the increased page count.

A second important point raised by Kibrik concerns the establishment ofequivalence between bound and free pronouns. He shows convincingly that not onlydo bound pronouns fulfill the same functions as free pronouns in that they arereferential and case-marked, but also that the parameter of tenacity (frequentlytaken as evidence for an interpretation of bound pronouns as agreement markers)operates independently from that of boundness. This leads to interestingtypological findings, such as the fact that the 'exotic' pattern of boundtenacious pronouns, as present e.g. in Abkhaz, is more commoncross-linguistically than the 'basic' pattern of free alternating pronouns inthe Germanic languages.

Here again I had a small concern. Kibrik (pp. 94-95) strongly argues in favor ofverb-marked case, and replaces the common terminology of 'subject' and 'object'pronouns in Athabascan, for example, consistently by the labels 'nominative' and'accusative' pronouns (see e.g. p. 209 for a discussion of Navajo). Whendiscussing Russian on the other hand, he talks about 'subject' and 'object'pronouns, even though the labels 'nominative' and 'accusative' pronouns would beperfectly accurate in this situation.

Excepting these few minor issues, I was very impressed by Parts I-III. Both thebreadth of this overview -- the assembly of discourse data from that manylanguages is no mean feat, since grammatical accounts frequently do not includea sufficient number of textual examples -- and its depth -- the organization andanalysis of such an amount of textual data is challenging and time-consuming --are remarkable. Furthermore, much of the data stems from Kibrik's own fieldworkon a number of unrelated languages, which demonstrates not only an impressivefieldwork record, but also bestows additional authority on this account. Anotherinteresting aspect is the inclusion of the Russian research tradition ondiscourse; since much of that is produced in Russian, it is not as accessible tomany linguists as, say, the American research tradition instigated by Chafe(1980, 1994) or Givón (1983).

Part IV, the discussion of the cognitive foundations of basic referentialchoice, is more difficult to evaluate. The links between discourse linguisticsand cognition drawn in chapters 10 and 13 were very interesting, and Kibrikreports on a number of corpus studies on referential choice in chapter 14. WhileI am not a cognitive linguist, I found these chapters illuminating and clear. Idid however have some serious concerns regarding chapters 11 and 12. In thesetwo chapters, Kibrik presents a way to calculate the activation status for eachmention by assigning a numerical weight (positive or negative) to eachactivation factor and adding them up. In order to figure out whether aparticular referential choice is obligatory or optional, Kibrik gives alteredvariations of the text to research participants and asks them to evaluatewhether the substitution of, e.g., a pronoun for a full NP is acceptable or not.This experiment establishes three thresholds for referential choice. Thistechnique is applied to a Russian written text in chapter 11 and to an Englishwritten text in chapter 12.

While the discussion of the methodology is for the most part very clear andinclusive, Kibrik presents us with the weights of activation factors in Russianon p. 411 (in chapter 11) and English on p. 436 (in chapter 12), but does notexplain how he arrived at these weights until p. 441. As a result, one has toread the whole discussion of Russian without knowing why particular weights havebeen assigned to various activation factors. I found this a tad frustrating,since it could easily have been avoided by switching the order of chapters 11and 12.

My second concern regards the methodological issues in the calculation of theactivation score, all of which Kibrik lists on pp. 460-461 and addresses bydeveloping a neural network that a) identifies those factors that don'tsignificantly contribute to activation, b) is not as labor-intensive as theassigning of numerical weights by hand, c) recognizes that there may benon-linear dependencies between activation factors, and d) ensures allactivation scores are neatly between 0 and 1. The resulting neural networkdescribed on pp. 461-470 seems well-designed and remarkably robust in generatingreliably the predicted (i.e. original) referential device, even aftersubstantial pruning. This model however raised a question: If such an advancedtechnique is available, why then spend two whole chapters (about 80 pages) on amanual, time-consuming, and problematic technique? Given that the results fromthese studies have been published since the late 1990s (see chapter 11, footnote1; chapter 12, footnote 1), it would have been possible to briefly summarize therelevant findings, use them as input for the computer model, and then move on toother topics.

Part V comprises only one chapter, where Kibrik includes visual evidence frompointing and also from sign languages. Again, I am not a specialist and cannotcomment on the accuracy or innovativeness of the chapter. I was a littlesurprised about the chapter's placement; it appears to be almost an afterthoughtto the book. It would have been more intuitive to me had it immediately followedthe typological chapters, since this would have supported Kibrik's view that"the discussion of reference in human languages would be grossly incomplete if Itotally ignored the evidence of sign languages in this book" (p. 499).

To sum up: Kibrik has clearly succeeded in providing the reader with an overviewnot only over the linguistic variation and typological tendencies of reference,but also over the different research traditions in East and West. The book isextremely comprehensive and very clearly written. I am not sure whether parts ofit would be suitable as a "sort of a textbook" (p. 552) even at the graduatelevel, since the chapters build very strongly upon each other, so that isolatingportions for students to read could be difficult. The book could rather be usedfor self-study both by graduate students and others working in the field. Inparticular, Kibrik succeeds in pointing out many avenues for future research: byproviding a questionnaire for fieldworkers, by identifying typologicalparameters, and by demonstrating that computer modeling and corpus linguisticsboth are valuable tools in the investigation of reference. In short, this bookis an invaluable and very accessible resource for those who want to read up ondiscourse reference as quickly as a book of this heft permits.

REFERENCESChafe, Wallace L. (ed.) 1980. The pear stories: Cognitive, cultural andlinguistic aspects of narrative production. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex.

Chafe, Wallace L. 1994. Discourse, consciousness, and time: The flow anddisplacement of conscious experience in speaking and writing. Chicago: TheUniversity of Chicago Press.

Givón, Talmy. 1983. Topic continuity in discourse: A quantitativecross-linguistic study. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Givón, Talmy. 2001. Syntax: A functional-typological introduction. Amsterdam:John Benjamins.

Haspelmath, Martin, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil, and Bernard Comrie. 2005. WorldAtlas of Language Structures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haspelmath, Martin, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil, and Bernard Comrie. World Atlasof Language Structures. Max Planck Digital Library. 2008.

ABOUT THE REVIEWEROlga Lovick is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and Dene LanguageStudies at the First Nations University of Canada. Her research interestsinclude discourse linguistics, conversation analysis, and prosody in theAthabascan languages and beyond.

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