Research Project:
The Discourse Context Dependence of Definites

The interpretations of English indexicals (including ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘here’, ‘now’, ‘today’, and so on) are, in their paradigmatic uses, sensitive only to the features of an actual utterance or thought event. Indexicals are notoriously resistant to influence from the discourse environment. However, as many have noted, there are uses of indexicals that do not fit comfortably within the standard mold. In the free indirect style used in some narratives, ‘here’ and temporal indexicals are sensitive to the point of view of the protagonist, even though the protagonist is picked out with a third person pronoun (‘He would call today/this morning. She was sure of it’.). We see similar uses even outside of fictional contexts (‘Normally the liquid would not burn, but now it exploded, it was consumed so rapidly’). Still other uses of indexicals, notably ‘now’, ‘here’, and ‘actual’/‘actually’, seem so loose as to not really concern times or places or worlds at all. Instead they serve to structure a discourse (‘Let’s imagine how it will go: John gets out of his car. He’s now walking to the office…).

In my research, I will be studying the behavior of these discourse sensitive uses of indexicals, with a view to determining their relation to paradigmatic uses of indexicals and to explaining why they are sensitive to their discourse environment when the paradigmatic uses are so remarkably resistant to it.