Linguistics and the Human Sciences, Vol 11, No 2-3 (2015)

The Noun, Grammar and Context

Lise Fontaine
Issued Date: 15 Jun 2018


Perhaps the earliest linguistic resource we have as babies learning to mean is the noun in categorizing the objects around us. The conventional association between the noun and the entity it denotes becomes exploited in use and the speaker learns that through grammar he or she can use nominal expressions to refer. This is one of our most powerful resources. The referring nominal group has the greatest potential for complexity and can serve as a measure of a text's 'nominality' and its density, including its role as an index of register. In Halliday's 1966 paper Grammar, Society and the Noun, he sought to consider "certain questions of language from the outside" (p. 50). In this paper, I will also look at certain questions of language but instead from the inside. These two alternative views can be thought of as inter-organism orientation and intra-organism orientation (Halliday, Lamb & Regan, 1988). This paper seeks to answer questions such as what is 'nominality'? Where and how does it fit in the grammar? What relationship does it have, if any, to context? Taking an intra-organism approach, I will consider these questions by examining certain referring expressions in context. Clark and Wilkes-Gibbs (1986) demonstrated how the process of referring is collaborative; however as they point out, “social factors govern the collaborative mode” (p, 37). This paper will explore these social factors by looking at certain referring expressions in an uncollaborative context, that of a reprisal hearing. The results show that a speech partner uses different strategies following a rejected referring expression depending on the type of exchange.

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DOI: 10.1558/lhs.34355


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