Referential expression

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Traditionally, an expression is a referential expression if it has a reference, hence designates an individual in some domain of interpretation. Recently the notion of a referential expression is equated with that of an argument, arguments being the terms which are associated with thematic roles such as Agent, Theme, etc. The set of arguments includes at least proper names (John), anaphors (himself), and pronouns (he). The notion of referentiality is involved in the analysis of idioms (the bucket in the idiom he kicked the bucket is not referential), weather-predicates ( it in it rains is quasi-referential) and expletives such as it (cf. it seems that he has gone) and there (there is a man in the garden). Referential expressions are not to be confused with so-called R-expressions, i.e. NPs which are subject to condition C of the binding theory ('R-expressions must be free').

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Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics

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