Constituting reference in natural language: the problem of referential opacity
Shadbolt, Nigel R.
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Reference is of fundamental importance in natural language semantics. In Formal Semantics, reference is regarded as an absolute relation between expressions and referents. Thus construed reference is independent of the cognitive states of processors. Various Formal theories of reference are examined. We review the solutions which these theories offer to the referential problems associated with 'Opaque Contexts'. Such problems must be resolved if the Formal concept of reference is to be maintained. Formal explanations of other referential phenomena are also examined, viz. 'specificity', 'expressive responsibility'. and 'referentiality'. The thesis demonstrates that certain paradoxes arise as a result of using the same logical apparatus to describe all of these separate phenomena. It is argued that reference is not an absolute and invariant relation in language. Despite this claim it is argued that a theory of the effectiveness of referential acts is still possible. A system of referential description is presented that represents crucial aspects of the process of performing and understanding referential acts. It is proposed that generating and interpreting natural language is best explained as a process of constructing cognitive models. The elements involved in constructing such models indicate that the state of a language processor is the most important determinant of the mechanics of the referential act. The apparatus embodied in the system is used to explain 'specificity', 'expressive responsibility' etc., without recourse to the logical apparatus of scope. The system is also deployed in the analysis of discourse data. This data is derived from a task in which the participants, initially, do not have equal knowledge about the likely objects of discourse reference. The analysis reveals that referential expressions are constructed, used and interpreted modulo the intentional states of the processors. These states include; the kinds of high-level 'resource allocation' strategies that are in force at any point in the discourse, the beliefs processor's have about the domain of discourse, and the beliefs they have about the beliefs of their fellow interlocutors.