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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-X030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Anaphora describes a dependence of the interpretation of one natural language expression on the interpretation of another natural language expression. For example, the pronoun ‘her’ in (1) below is anaphorically dependent for its interpretation on the interpretation of the noun phrase ‘Sally’ because ‘her’ refers to the same person ‘Sally’ refers to.

  • (1) Sally likes her car.

As (2) below illustrates, anaphoric dependencies also occur across sentences, making anaphora a ‘discourse phenomenon’:

  • (2) A farmer owned a donkey. He beat it.

The analysis of anaphoric dependence has been the focus of a great deal of study in linguistics and philosophy. Anaphoric dependencies are difficult to accommodate within the traditional conception of compositional semantics of Tarski and Montague precisely because the meaning of anaphoric elements is dependent on other elements of the discourse.

Many expressions can be used anaphorically. For instance, anaphoric dependencies hold between the expression ‘one’ and the indefinite noun phrase ‘a labrador’ in (3) below; between the verb phrase ‘loves his mother’ and a ‘null’ anaphor (or verbal auxiliary) in (4); between the prepositional phrase ‘to Paris’ and the lexical item ‘there’ in (5); and between a segment of text and the pronoun ‘it’ in (6).

  • (3) Susan has a labrador. I want one too.

  • (4) John loves his mother. Fred does too.

  • (5) I didn’t go to Paris last year. I don’t go there very often.

  • (6) One plaintiff was passed over for promotion. Another didn’t get a pay increase for five years. A third received a lower wage than men doing the same work. But the jury didn’t believe any of it.

Some philosophers and linguists have also argued that verb tenses generate anaphoric dependencies.

Citing this article:
Asher, Nicholas. Anaphora, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-X030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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