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Referring and the nominal group. Lise Fontaine Cardiff University LinC Summer School and Workshop 2010. outline. A few words about terminology Brief overview of the CG The place of referring in the CG Structure of the nominal group Walk through of the referring process

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referring and the nominal group

Referring and the nominal group

Lise Fontaine

Cardiff University

LinC Summer School and Workshop 2010

  • A few words about terminology
  • Brief overview of the CG
  • The place of referring in the CG
  • Structure of the nominal group
  • Walk through of the referring process
  • Analysing some challenging nominal groups

Hi Jane, what’s new?


  • I bought that phone I wanted
  • I bought a new phone
  • I bought the new motorola
  • you know that phone I wanted, well, I bought it
  • remember I told you I was going to buy a new phone? I couldn’t buy the one I wanted so I bought a different one.
why referring expression
Why ‘referring expression’?
  • What can we call these expressions?:
    • Discourse referent, referent, entity, thing, object, participant, term, nominal group, referring expression ...

 When you name something you take away the possibility that it could have been something else


participant vs participant
Participant vs. participant
  • Participating entity  Participant(Halliday, 1969:160)
    • Term participant is misleading
    • But ‘participating entity’ is “clumsy”
    • Participant = element that enters into the transitivity structure … identified in relation to the process (e.g. ‘actor’ or ‘beneficiary’); inherently associated to Process
    • Combination of roles on one element of structure: Identified/Goal (they elected John their spokesman)
    • Semantic category  how our experience of the world (is) construed (Halliday, 2004:178)
participant vs participant1
Participant vs. participant
  • participant (Martin, 1992:129)
    • “a person, place or thing, abstract or concrete, capable of functioning as Agent or Medium in TRANSITIVITY”
    • “all participants are realised through nominal groups but not all nominal groups realise participants” (Martin, 1992:129)
      • Ngps not realising a participant:
        • Attributes, e.g. He is a nice man
        • meteorological it, it’s raining
        • Some indefinite nominal groups, e.g. he didn’t see anyone
        • Range/Scope in some cases, e.g. take a bath, have dinner, play tennis.
do we need a term
Do we need a term?

Lyons (1977:23) states:

a term is required for the linguistic units that serve to identify (or refer to) whatever we are talking about when we make a statement about something. The term that is most commonly used in philosophical semantics for this purpose is ‘referring expression’.

referring expression
Referring Expression

“a noun phrase is a string of words which syntactically is a constituent with an internal structure containing a determiner, a modifier and a head ... Semantically, a noun phrase can be used as a referring expression.” (de Haan, 1989: 8)

Tuscarora (Mithun, cited in Rhijkhoff, 2002:13)

\'the boy looked at the goat\'

referent as mental construct
Referent as mental construct
  • referent is in the mind of the speaker as some sort of cognitive representation or mental construct.
  • Rijkhoff (2002:28), “the immediate referent of an NP, i.e. the discourse referent, is a mental construct rather than an entity in the external world.”

A Glimpse of the system network for referent thing (Fawcett, 1980)


I, we






John, Mr Smith


it, her, the red one



a dog, a dog that is black

seeking specification

who, what

four key concepts which contribute to the syntax of any unit in the cardiff grammar
Four key concepts which contribute to the syntax of any unit in the Cardiff grammar
  • the system network that defines the language’s meaning potential,
  • the selection expression of features chosen from it on any one traversal of it,
  • the realization rules that these trigger, and
  • the structure that is their output in any one instance, consisting of syntax and items.

(Fawcett, 2007:8)

four components to the realization rules
Four components to the realization rules:

Tucker (1998:47):

  • Rule number
  • System feature(s)
  • Any conditions on the rules
  • Rule operations.

e.g. ‘the woman gave the ticket to the man’.



60 : thing :

if congruent_thing then ngp,

if minor_relationship_with_thing then pgp.



‘the woman’

‘to the man’

the basic categories and relationships of syntax
The basic categories and relationships of syntax

(Fawcett, 2008a:74-75)

a unit is composed of one or more elements

Elements are filled by units or expounded by items

the lowest element is expounded by an item

nominal group syntax d m h q
Nominal group syntax: (d)* (m)* h (q)*





(&) (rd) (v) (pd) (qd) (v) (sd or od) (v) (dd) (m)* h (q)*

basic logical form lin 1993
basic logical form (Lin, 1993)

event(event1[agent=object1, process=work]),


following the first pass of the network
Following the first pass of the network
  • Selections have already been made concerning Subject and Theme (see Fawcett, Tucker & Lin, 1993).
    • Therefore, object1 is already known to be Agent/Subject/Theme.
  • There is an assumption made here within the CG model that the selection of Theme takes place before lexicalisation.
    • Potentially problematic
role of preselection
Role of preselection
  • All referring expressions are generated by preselection.
  • [referent thing] is preselected to fill the Agent conflated with Subject/Theme.



what great chemo pills

what are working

which/that are working


Cultural classification system will lead to noun items and a realization rule to expound the head of the nominal group with the selected item , i.e. h < “pill”

the red ones

the selection expression has been given as
the selection expression has been given as:

{ [thing], [congruent thing], [stereotypical thing], [outsider], [cultural classification potential], [count cultural classification], [plural cultural classification], [particularized plural], [ad hoc description], [not by age], [by general epithet], [not by affective attitude], [not by minor relationship with thing], [by role in other situation], [classifying description of thing by role in situation] }.

Cultural classification system: pill (h < “pill”)

nominal group syntax
Nominal group syntax
  • Analysing nominal group grammar
a challenging nominal group
A challenging nominal group

Long story short, we end up staying in a parking lot which is two streets away from a garage that ends up directing us to a shop that can rebuild alternators for 1975 Datsuns and is just two streets over from them. 

This is something that we were not able to do in Vancouver, we had tried with little success

draw trees for these nominal groups
Draw trees for these nominal groups:
  • I’d like a little house with a yard
  • Tomorrow is the parade, friends across the street rent a hotel room downtown and make a party of it
  • and the chaps. are other parents that I know and trust
  • It’sa fact he’s known for at least a year
  • He was one of the guys that found him
  • There are a variety of management techniques outlined in the handbook
  • mom arrives home the same day the girls head down
  • I had a hard time getting ready for the anniversary
  • There are an estimated 425,000 woodlot owners in Canada who collectively own more than 18 million hectares of commercial productive forest land