The interpretation of English noun phrases with particular regard to generic reference
Within a relevance-theoretic inferential framework, the present corpus-based study offers an explanatory account of how English noun phrases are interpreted in discourse with particular regard to generic reference. Relevance pragmatics pays special attention to the process of discovering the proposition expressed by an utterance as a direct speech act and therefore it provides us with tools to explain how the interpretation of noun phrases contributes to the recovery of the proposition, especially how inference is being carried out. Two sets of features developed in this thesis capture the mechanism of interpreting NPs in general and generic reference in particular. One set applies to nominal expressions which belong to a discoursal network, specifying their relations and thereby enabling us to establish the network. When the NP in question is an introductory expression, another set of features, which has therefore become more important, is used to indicate the clues used in establishing a mental representation of its interpretation. With the help of these two feature-based systems, cognitively significant clues to the interpretation of an NP and its discoursal relations can be caught, including those for deciding whether a certain NP is to be interpreted generically or not. This study also investigates the four types of generics discussed in the linguistic literature: member generics, class generics, sub-class generics, and the generic use of pronouns. With the help of the one-million-word ICE-GB and other authentic sources, a comprehensive classification of discoursal relations and types of generic referents is established, which will serve as a basis for future research.