A Systemic Functional Approach to Referring Expressions:
Reconsidering postmodification in the nominal group

PhD Dissertation

Lise Fontaine

Cardiff University

This thesis explores the relevant systems which model the choices speakers make when referring to objects.  Referring expressions have received relatively little attention in Systemic Functional Linguistics, although from a purely structural perspective some work has attempted to account for postmodification in the nominal group.  The main goal of this thesis is to produce a theoretical and analytical approach to referring expressions including complex referring expressions in particular. This requires a shift in perspective from structural (‘nominal group’) to functional (‘referring expression’).

The research presented in this thesis explores three main areas:

•   to develop a methodology for analysing referring expressions following the system networks as closely as possible.  The thesis offers considerable detail concerning the methodology developed, including the tagging of three corpora.  The analytical framework taken adapts as closely as possible the relevant system networks for referring expressions.  This offers a better understanding of the interaction between the various functional components of these expressions.

•   to contribute to the systemic functional theoretical model of language in the area of referring expressions by presented a detailed description of referring expressions. This includes the frequency and interaction of the various functional components of referring expressions with attention to variation and stability over individuals and text type.

•   to develop a new theory of complex referring expressions which is based on systemic choice rather than on structural or lexical classification. As a result, the main theoretical contribution of this thesis is a new perspective on complex referring expressions. This perspective explores the transitivity patterns of these expressions and it also revises the system network for ‘thing’.

In addition the thesis has produced an XML database of over 3,000 fully analysed referring expressions and a second database including detailed coding of complex referring expressions.   


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