Degrees of referential importance : Intuitive, lexicogrammatical, and text frequency approaches



Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description A continuing interest of the author of the present contribution has been Wallace Chafe’s view of referents in the flow of communication constituting a hierarchical system of importance of at least three ranks: primary, secondary, and trivial (Chafe, 1994, pp. 88–91). Chafe first attempts a method of ranking of referents based on lexicogrammar (pp. 88–89) but ultimately suggests that the most reliable method is one where referent importance is directly proportional to their text frequency. He also points to an article by Wright & Givón (1987), where referential importance is based on intuitive evaluations of four independent judges. All three approaches are taken up in the present study. In it, several simple assumptions are made concerning the approaches. In the text frequency approach, it is assumed that the more frequent a referent is, the more important it is. In the lexicogrammar approach, two assumptions are made, namely, that a) more important referents tend to occupy more prominent syntactic positions, such as the subject; and b) more important referents tend to be encoded with uniquely identifying referring expressions. These assumptions are then compared with intuitive judgements of 10 different people, whose task was to rank-order referents based on their perceived importance. The result of this comparison is a more refined and robust scale of referential importance, one that can be further tested and expanded by incorporating other variables, such as salience and recipients’ (assumed) background knowledge. The study is based on an analysis of five corpora, each containing approximately 1,850 words.
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