Grounding is the grammaticized means of relating the thing profiled by a nominal, or the process profiled by a finite clause, to the ground (the speech event and its participants). As narrowly defined, grounding elements make very fundamental specifications of a basically epistemic nature. Moreover, they construe the ground subjectively—leaving it implicit as the offstage locus of conception—with the profiled entity being the focused, onstage object of conception. Whereas a lexical noun or verb merely names a type of thing or process, a full nominal or finite clause designates and grounds an instance of the type. An instance differs from a type by being thought of as having a particular location in the domain of instantiation, one that distinguishes it from other instances. The profiled instance is not necessarily an actual individual, but may also be a virtual (or fictive) entity confined to a special mental space. A nominal referent is generally identified through a combination of description, which selects a set of eligible candidates, and grounding, which directs attention to a member of this set. Two basic grounding strategies are deixis (abstract pointing) and quantification. The deictic grounding elements—demonstratives and the definite article—are definite: they single out the intended referent independently of the content of the clause containing the nominal. By contrast, with indefinite grounding elements the referent is initially virtual, pending its identification by means of the clausal content (in the case of indefinite articles), or is necessarily virtual (in the case of quantifiers). Clausal grounding is less concerned with identification than with existence, i.e. whether or not an event occurs. For English the basic grounding elements are tense and the modals. The tense opposition present vs. past is a special case of the more schematic value of immediate vs. non-immediate (with respect to the ground). The absence of a modal indicates that the speaker accepts the profiled occurrence as part of the speaker's conception of reality. The presence of a modal indicates that it does not yet have this status, but is still a target for realization. The choice of modal registers the impetus for speaker control, which occurs on either of two levels: effective vs. epistemic control (corresponding to root vs. epistemic modals).
Keywords: article, definite vs. indefinite, deixis, demonstrative, domain of instantiation, fictivity, finite clause, ground, grounding, modal, nominal, nominal referent, quantification, quantifier, root vs. epistemic modal, subjective vs. objective construal, tense, type vs. instance, virtual entity
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