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‘Gary took the last banana’
‘Gary took the prize’ Yes / No
(7) Is Gary took . . . an opaque context? Yes / No
Feedback (1) Yes (2) Yes (3) Yes (4) No (5) Yes (6) Yes (7) No
Comment The term ‘opaque’ is especially appropriate because these contexts seem to
‘block our view’ through them to the referential interpretations of referring
Notice that opaque contexts typically involve a certain kind of verb, like
want, believe, think, and wonder about. Note that it was often in the context of
PART TWO From reference . . .
such opacity-creating verbs that indefinite noun phrases could be ambiguous
between a referring and a non-referring interpretation, as in ‘Nancy wants to
marry a Norwegian’.
Turning away now from the question of opacity, and back to the more
basic notion of referring expressions, we define a further notion, that of
equative sentence.
Definition An EQUATIVE SENTENCE is one which is used to assert the identity of the
referents of two referring expressions, i.e. to assert that two referring
expressions have the same referent.
Example The following are equative sentences:
Tony Blair is the Prime Minister
That woman over there is my daughter’s teacher
Practice Are the following equative sentences?
(1) John is the person in the corner Yes / No
(2) Henry the Eighth is the current President of the USA Yes / No
(3) Cairo is not the largest city in Africa Yes / No
(4) Cairo is a large city Yes / No
(5) Dr Jekyll is Mr Hyde Yes / No
(6) Ted is an idiot Yes / No
Feedback (1) Yes (2) Yes, equative sentences can be false. (3) No (4) No, this sentence 
does not state identity of reference. (5) Yes (6) No
Comment A feature of many equative sentences is that the order of the two referring
expressions can be reversed without loss of acceptability.
Example The largest city in Africa is Cairo
Cairo is the largest city in Africa
Comment The ‘reversal test’ applied here is not a perfect diagnostic for equative
sentences, however. In What I need is a pint of Guinness, a pint of Guinness is
not a referring expression, because a user of this sentence would not have
any particular pint of Guinness in mind, but the sentence is nevertheless
reversible, as in A pint of Guinness is what I need. And the sentence That is
the man who kidnapped my boss definitely is equative, but it is not reversible,
as The man who kidnapped my boss is that is unacceptable.
Summary At first sight the notion of reference as a relation between expressions used 
in utterances and people and objects in the world seems straightforward
enough. But stating simple generalizations about when an expression is
actually a referring expression and when it is not, is, to say the least,
difficult. Both indefinite and definite noun phrases can be ambiguous
between referring and non-referring interpretations, with the appropriate
interpretation being highly dependent on linguistic context (i.e. the
surrounding words) and the circumstances of the utterance. The existence
of opaque contexts also provides interesting complications to the
contribution of referring expressions to meaning.
Unit 4 Study Guide and Exercises
Directions After you have read Unit 4 you should be able to tackle the following
questions to test your understanding of the main ideas raised in the unit.
1 You should understand these terms and concepts from this unit:
referring expression opaque context
indefinite noun phrase equative sentence
definite noun phrase
2 Which of the following could be used as referring expressions? Be able to
explain why or why not.
a my table e or
b a unicorn f Mary
c no love g a book
d travel h Abraham Lincoln
For sentences 3–6 below decide whether the italicized noun phrases are
referring expressions or not, and explain why (or why not). If the sentence is
ambiguous explain why it is ambiguous.
3 His father married a dancer
4 John wants to marry a dancer
5 The whale is the largest mammal
6 The man who shot Kennedy was Lee Harvey Oswald
7 Explain the ambiguity in: I am looking for a pencil
8 Create a set of circumstances under which the sentence Dan believes that . . .
signed the bill is an opaque context. Use the referring expressions George
W. Bush and the President of the United States in your answer.
9 Which of the following are equative sentences? Explain why.
a Fred is the man with the gun
b William the Conqueror is the current King of England
c Detroit is a nearby city
d Mary is a genius
e A box of cookies is what I would like
f Detroit is not the largest city in the USA
UNIT 4 Referring expressions
10 Consider the sentence It’s a tree. Assume that this sentence is uttered by a
particular person on a particular occasion to pick out a particular tree.
Briefly explain how each of the following technical terms introduced so far
in this book apply to the utterance of this example sentence: sentence,
utterance, reference, referent.
PART TWO From reference . . .
Entry requirements REFERENCE and SENSE (Unit 3) and REFERRING EXPRESSIONS (Unit 4).
If you feel you understand these notions, take the entry test below. If not,
review Units 3 and 4.
Entry test (1) Which of the following is the phrase a tall tree? Circle your answer.
(a) a referring expression
(b) not a referring expression
(c) sometimes a referring expression and sometimes not, depending on
context and circumstances of use
(2) Is the following statement correct (Yes) or incorrect (No)? 
Whether a sentence contains any referring expressions or not 
depends on the time and place at which the sentence occurs. Yes / No
(3) Which of the following sentences is equative? Circle your answer.
(a) Mahmoud is an Egyptian
(b) I was telling you about Mahmoud the Egyptian
(c) Mahmoud is the Egyptian I was telling you about
(d) Mahmoud is a genius
(4) Does if have sense in the same way that dog has sense? Yes / No
(5) Do the expressions big and large have essentially the same 
sense in the following sentences?
I live in a big house
I live in a large house Yes / No
(6) Circle those of the following words which can be referring 
expressions (in normal everyday English).
John, below, Venus, swims, round, beautiful, under, went.
Feedback (1)(c) (2) No: replace ‘sentence’ by ‘utterance’ to get a correct statement.
(3) (c) (4) No (5) Yes (6) John, Venus
If you have scored less than 5 correct out of 6, you should review the relevant
unit. If you have scored at least 5 correct out of 6, continue to the introduction.
Introduction We start by examining the semantic structure of simple declarative sentences,
such as My dog bit the postman or Mrs Wraith is waiting for the downtown
PART TWO From reference . . .
bus. Typically such sentences contain one or more referring expressions, plus
some other words that do not form part of any of the referring expressions.
It is on these other words that we shall now concentrate.
Practice In the following sentences, delete the referring expressions and write down
the remainder to the right of the example. We have done the first one for you.
(1) My dog bit the postman bit
(2) Mrs Wraith is writing the Mayor’s speech
(3) Cairo is in Africa
(4) Edinburgh is between Aberdeen and York
(5) This place stinks
(6) John’s car is red
(7) Einstein was a genius
Feedback (2) Mrs Wraith is writing the Mayor’s speech is writing
(3) Cairo is in Africa is in
(4) Edinburgh is between Aberdeen and York is between, and
(5) This place stinks stinks
(6) John’s car is red is red
(7) Einstein was a genius was a genius
Comment The ‘remainders’ written in the right-hand column are quite a varied set.
But in each case it is possible to discern one word (or part of a word) which
‘carries more meaning’ than the others. For instance, write in example
(2) carries more specific information than is and the suffix -ing. If one strips
away such less meaningful elements, one is left with a sequence of words,
which, though ungrammatical and inelegant,

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