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(2), (3),
and (5).
Comment The identity relation is special because of its very basic role in the
communication of information. In English, one must analyse some instances
of the verb be (e.g. those in sentences (2), (3), (5) above) as instances of the
identity predicate. Other instances of the verb be, as we have seen, are simply
a grammatical device for linking a predicate that is not a verb (i.e. an
adjective, preposition, or noun) to its first argument, as in John is a fool or
John is foolish. The verb be is also a device for ‘carrying’ the tense (present or
past) of a sentence.
Summary The predicates of a language have a completely different function from the 
referring expressions. The roles of these two kinds of meaning-bearing
element cannot be exchanged. Thus John is a bachelor makes good sense,
but Bachelor is a John makes no sense at all. Predicates include words from
various parts of speech, e.g. common nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and
verbs. We have distinguished between predicates of different degrees (one-
place, two-place, etc.). The relationship between referring expressions and
predicates will be explored further in the next unit.
Unit 5 Study Guide and Exercises
Directions After you have read Unit 5 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:
predicator degree of a predicate
predicate ellipsis (elliptical)
argument identity relation
2 Indicate the arguments and predicator(s) in each sentence.
a John is a linguist
b John loves Mary
c Mary loves John (Are arguments ordered?)
d John gave Mary a ring
e Chicago is between Los Angeles and New York
f Jane is Mary’s mother
g Jones is the Dean of the College
h John stood near the bank
(How should the ambiguity be handled?)
i Ed is a fool
j Ed is foolish
3 Indicate the degree of the predicates used as predicators in each sentence in
item 2 above.
4 How does the concept of predicate in the semantic sense differ from the
concept of grammatical predicate? Does one seem to be more revealing
than the other?
5 In this unit we said that the prepositions from and of in the two-part
adjectives different from and afraid of ‘are not themselves predicates . . .
(and that they) are relatively meaningless linking particles’. Do you agree
with this statement? Consider a sentence such as The letter is from my uncle
before reaching a conclusion.
6 What are the functions of the verb be in these sentences (i.e. does it
function as an identity predicate or as a grammatical device for linking a
non-verbal predicate to its first argument)? Do all instances of be carry
a Mary is happy
b A tulip is a flower
c George W. Bush is the US President
d God is
7 Does it make sense to say that the verb be has a meaning of its own,
independent of whether it is used as a linking device or as the identity
predicate? Speculate about what it could mean, and don’t be concerned if
your answer is quite abstract. Many lexical items in the world’s languages
have very abstract meanings.
UNIT 5 Predicates
Entry requirements REFERRING EXPRESSION (Unit 4) and PREDICATE (Unit 5). If you feel
you understand these notions, take the entry test below. Otherwise, review
Units 4 and 5.
Entry test (1) Say which of the following sentences are equative (E), and which are
not (N).
(a) My parrot is holidaying in the South of France E / N
(b) Dr Kunastrokins is an ass E / N
(c) Tristram Shandy is a funny book E / N
(d) Our next guest is Dr Kunastrokins E / N
(2) Circle the referring expressions in the following sentences.
(a) I am looking for any parrot that can sing
(b) Basil saw a rat
(c) These matches were made in Sweden
(d) A dentist is a person who looks after people’s teeth
Feedback (1) (a) N (b) N (c) N (d) E (2) (a) I (b) Basil, a rat (c) these matches,
Sweden (d) None
If you have scored less than 4 out of 4 correct in (1), you should review
‘Predicates’ (Unit 5). If you have scored less than 4 out of 4 correct in
(2), you should review ‘Referring Expressions’ (Unit 4). If you got the test
completely right, continue to the introduction.
Introduction We explore further the distinction and the relationship between referring
expressions and predicates. We will see how the same word can be used for the
radically different functions of reference and predication. And we will begin to
see how these two functions fit together in the overall language system.
Comment Some expressions are almost always referring expressions no matter what
sentences they occur in.
Practice (1) Can the proper name Mohammed Ali ever be used as 
the predicator of a sentence? Yes / No
(2) Can the proper name Cairo ever be used as a predicator 
of a sentence? Yes / No
UNIT 6 Predicates, referring expressions, and universe of discourse
(3) In general, can proper names ever be used as predicators? Yes / No
(4) Can the verb hit ever be used as a referring expression? Yes / No
(5) Can the preposition on ever be used as a referring expression? Yes / No
(6) In general, can any verb or preposition be used to refer? Yes / No
Feedback (1) No (2) No (3) No (We would analyse cases like That man is an Einstein
as being figurative for That man is similar to Einstein, where the real
predicate is similar, and not Einstein, but this analysis could conceivably be
challenged.) (4) No (5) No (6) No: they are always predicates and can
never be used as referring expressions.
Comment The distinction between referring expressions and predicates is absolute:
there is not a continuum running from proper names at one end, through
‘borderline cases’ to verbs and prepositions at the other. Either an expression
is used in a given utterance to refer to some entity in the world or it is not so
There are some phrases, in particular indefinite noun phrases, that can be
used in two ways, either as referring expressions, or as predicating
Practice (1) Is a man in John attacked a man a referring expression? Yes / No
(2) Is a man in John is a man a referring expression? Yes / No
Feedback (1) Yes (2) No
Comment A man can be either a referring expression or a predicating expression,
depending on the context. The same is true of other indefinite NPs. On
the face of it, this may seem startling. How are we able to use the same
expressions for different purposes? We will try to untangle this riddle.
Practice (1) Imagine that you and I are in a room with a man and a woman, and,
making no visual signal of any sort, I say to you, ‘The man stole my
wallet’. In this situation, how would you know the referent of the
subject referring expression?
(2) If in the situation described above I had said, ‘A man stole 
my wallet’, would you automatically know the referent of the 
subject expression a man? Yes / No
(3) So does the definite article, the, prompt the hearer to (try to) 
identify the referent of a referring expression? Yes / No
(4) Does the indefinite article, a, prompt the hearer to (try to) 
identify the referent of a referring expression? Yes / No
PART TWO From reference . . .
Feedback (1) By finding in the room an object to which the predicate contained in
the subject referring expression (i.e. man) could be truthfully applied (2)
No (3) Yes (4) No
Comment The presence of a predicate in a referring expression helps the hearer to
identify the referent of a referring expression. Notice that we have just drawn
a distinction between referring and identifying the referent of a referring
expression. We will explore this distinction.
Practice (1) Can the referent of the pronoun I be uniquely identified 
when this pronoun is uttered? Yes / No
(2) Can the referent of the pronoun you be uniquely

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