Linguistics 322


Contents: Reference | Sense | Operator | Tense | Aspect |

Reference is a part of meaning. Assume that there are three trees in a field. Each tree has a unique reference. Each branch on each tree has a unique reference. And each leaf and the field have a unique reference. There are two ways we can look at reference. The first is physical in that each atom and electron has reference whether it can be seen or not. The second is perceptual: this means how we see objects--do we see them as an object or not? We will take the latter approach.

Reference also includes imaginary objects: unicorns, leprechauns, Santa Claus, Hades, elves, eternal bliss, and so forth. This would also include objects which currently do not exist but could exist: a King of France, dinosaurs, a five-cent ice-cream cone, and so forth.

Sense is the more interesting part meaning. Sense refers to how we see an object or the amount of information given about an object.

The classic example cited showing the distinction is the planet Venus. As a planet it has reference arbitrarily given the name Venus. It is often called the morning star when seen in the morning, and the everning star when seen in the evening. Thus, it has two senses, depending on the time of day the object is seen. The planet itself is the referent, the morning star is one sense, the evening star the other sense. It could have other senses.

In another example suppose John has two sons, Bill and Henry; one nephew, Pete; and one grandson, Dave. When we refer to John as such, there is no sense. John is the arbitrary name given to the referent. Consider the folwing phrases:

Bill's father

Henry's father

Pete's uncle

Dave's grandfather.

Each phrase either refers to John (X's father), or it may refer to John: Pete may have more thn one uncle and Dave has a second grandfather. In these cases the addressee does not know which of the possible referents is the intended referent except when clear from the context.

The four phrases listed above represent a different sense of the intended referent. Virtually every object can have several senses.

Names are referential. They have little or no sense. Lexical nouns each denote a sense. The term father refer to anyone who is a male parent (antoher sense). As a rule all dictionary definitions define sense, not reference. Only names in a dictionary reference and no sense. Technically, this is not a definition.

Verbs, like nouns, have sense, not reference. Events rarely have names, though it is possible: the Holocast, World War II, the Big Bang, and so forth.

Operators have no sense; they are referential in nature. This is not self-evident. Let us start with the operator [DEFINITE [+Def]]. [+Def] is a marker of existence. [+Def] works in two ways in English: discourse linking ad ramic knowledge.

In discourse linking the definite determiner links the noun it modifies to a noun that occurs earlier in the discourse.

  1. This morning a package arrived. We were anxious to open the package.

The package in the second sentence is linked to a package in the first sentence. This linkage has no sense. Its function is to mark the package as existential, and linking helps find its referent. In this [+Def] is referential in the first case.

In the second case [+Def] is use to mark a referent already known to exist--pragmatics:

  1. Mary, do you know where the kid is?

If John and Mary have one kid, the kid is known to exist. since there is no problem in identifying him, the simple determiner will do. Marking existence as nothing to do with sense. But it does have referential properties. In this way the definite determiners are operators.

Tense is the temporal relation between the speech event (the event of the speaker talking) and the narrated event. Both the speech event and the narrated event are referents; each speech event and narrated event are a unique referent, which could label as R1, R2, R3 and N1, N2, N3, and so forth.

Let the following represent the past tense:

  1. N1, R1

The comma marks sequential order; the item to the left precedes the item to the right, temporally. Therefore, the relation of N1 to R1 is the past tense. If N1 and R1 are each referents with no sense, then it follows that N1,R1 is a referent with no sense. Since N1,R1 is a temporal relation called the past tense, then tense is an operator.


Contents: Reference | Sense | Operator | Tense | Aspect |

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