Towards a Unified Theory of Anaphora

par Taieb Jabli

Projet de thèse en Études anglophones

Sous la direction de Riitta Blum.

Thèses en préparation à Nice , dans le cadre de École doctorale Lettres, sciences humaines et sociales (Nice) depuis le 09-12-2010 .

  • Titre traduit

    Vers Une Théorie Unifiée de L'anaphore


  • Résumé

    Anaphora is a vital issue in theoretical linguistics or in any other field of studies where language occupies an important place. Theoretical linguistics cognitive science, psycholinguistics, philosophy of language, to mention just a few, are all disciplines where language occupies either a central or in any case an important place, and in which anaphora is studied intensively. It stands to reason, however, that a proper definition of anaphora should be expected from theoretical linguistics, and here it must be admitted that the situation is unsatisfactory, since, contrary to widespread opinion, no satisfactory definition of this linguistic phenomenon has so far been provided. This is no doubt one consequence, out of many, of the fact that not only many lay people but also many professionals fail to realise that natural human language is an extremely complex and hard to fathom network of systems,deluded as they are by the ease with which language is used in everyday situations. In fact, however, language is among the most difficult objects of research. The primary difficulty in getting an adequate picture of language as a whole no doubt lies in the fact that language is not one system but a complex machinery or network of interrelated systems at different levels. This, plus the fact that the machinery is largely of a mental or cognitive nature, makes it extremely hard to formulate an empirically adequate theory covering the entire object. It is thus hardly surprising that existing theories only give partial answers to the questions that language poses to the enquiring mind. No generally accepted theory has so far come about regarding the overall architecture of the linguistic system in the minds of speakers and hearers, even though this question is much discussed and sometimes even hotly debated. As anaphora is a topic not only in grammar but also in semantics, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, discourse studies and perhaps other fields as well, it transcends the boundaries of the specific subdisciplines involved and is thus in need of a clear view of the overall architecture of language, more than most other objects of language study. That being so, it would be natural to turn first of all to linguistics for a general and overall view of what anaphora amounts to, in the context of an adequate analysis of the overall architecture of human language as it functions in its ecological setting. Here, however,I was somewhat disappointed. In linguistics, as well as in neighbouring disciplines, there are widely diverging opinions on what the architecture of language should be taken to look like. Moreover, what I found was that in linguistics much more attention has been paid to sentenceinternal than to sentence-external anaphora, while sentence-external anaphora has been studied more in psycholinguistics and pragmatics. The conclusion would thus have to be that,in order to formulate a general theory of anaphora, properly integrated into an overall theory of language and covering both external and internal anaphora, one should go back to basics and start developing one’s own theory, taking in what is useful in the literature but rejecting what looks unacceptable. This, however, is far too tall an order for a Ph-D thesis. The only way out I could see was to follow a humbler, more inductively flavoured, path and to see what anaphora can tell us about language in general, holding up the facts of anaphora, so to speak, against the various general theories in circulation and thus seeing where these theories are confirmed and where they are disconfirmed. Disconfirmation of a theory, of course, means that that theory is in trouble and will, if the trouble is serious enough, have to be given up.Confirmation will keep the theory in the race, for the time being. It is in this sense that I undertook the investigation of the class of anaphora phenomena as a specific aspect of language.


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