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Laurence Goldstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199664986

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199664986.001.0001

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A New Puzzle about Discourse-initial Contexts *

A New Puzzle about Discourse-initial Contexts *

(p.107) 6 A New Puzzle about Discourse-initial Contexts*

Michael Glanzberg

Oxford University Press

This chapter raises a puzzle derived from some recent observations about discourse-initial contexts. Many phenomena, loosely characterizable as anaphoric, tend to be infelicitous in discourse-initial contexts. Varieties of ellipsis provide the examples I shall focus on in this note. Though it has sometimes been argued that ellipsis requires explicit linguistic antecedents, a significant body of recent literature has shown that, with the right contextual background, discourse-initial occurrences can be acceptable. But, this chapter argues, these facts raise a further puzzle. Cases where ellipsis is acceptable in discourse-initial contexts typically require very heavy contextual set-up. Yet prior discourse easily supports ellipsis, without providing the same sort of information that heavy contextual set-up does. The puzzle, then, is why ellipsis is so easy in non-discourse-initial contexts. Why does simply uttering a sentence—merely creating so much noise—do the job that otherwise can be done only by heavy contextual set-up? The main goal of this note is to present this puzzle, but it concludes with some speculation about where an answer might be found, suggesting a role for sentence processing.

Keywords:   ellipsis, context, discourse, salience, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, sentence processing, syntax-semantics interface

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