linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
, anaphora () is the use of an expression whose interpretation depends upon another expression in context (its antecedent or postcedent). In a narrower sense, anaphora is the use of an expression that depends specifically upon an antecedent expression and thus is contrasted with cataphora, which is the use of an expression that depends upon a postcedent expression. The anaphoric (referring) term is called an anaphor. For example, in the sentence ''Sally arrived, but nobody saw her'', the
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (abbreviated ) is a word or a group of words that one may substitute for a noun or noun phrase. Pronouns have traditionally been regarded as one of the parts of speech, but some modern theorists would not ...
''her'' is an anaphor, referring back to the antecedent ''Sally''. In the sentence ''Before her arrival, nobody saw Sally'', the pronoun ''her'' refers forward to the postcedent ''Sally'', so ''her'' is now a ''cataphor'' (and an anaphor in the broader, but not the narrower, sense). Usually, an anaphoric expression is a
pro-form In linguistics, a pro-form is a type of function word or expression that stands in for (expresses the same content as) another word, phrase, clause or sentence where the meaning is recoverable from the context. They are used either to avoid re ...
or some other kind of deictic (contextually dependent) expression. Both anaphora and cataphora are species of endophora, referring to something mentioned elsewhere in a dialog or text. Anaphora is an important concept for different reasons and on different levels: first, anaphora indicates how
discourse Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation to any form of communication. Discourse is a major topic in social theory, with work spanning fields such as sociology, anthropology, continental philosophy, and discourse analysis. F ...
is constructed and maintained; second, anaphora binds different
syntactical In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), ...
elements together at the level of the sentence; third, anaphora presents a challenge to
natural language processing Natural language processing (NLP) is an interdisciplinary subfield of linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence concerned with the interactions between computers and human language, in particular how to program computers to proc ...
computational linguistics Computational linguistics is an interdisciplinary field concerned with the computational modelling of natural language, as well as the study of appropriate computational approaches to linguistic questions. In general, computational linguistics ...
, since the identification of the reference can be difficult; and fourth, anaphora partially reveals how language is understood and processed, which is relevant to fields of linguistics interested in
cognitive psychology Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and reasoning. Cognitive psychology originated in the 1960s in a break from behaviorism, which h ...

Nomenclature and examples

The term ''anaphora'' is actually used in two ways. In a broad sense, it denotes the act of referring. Any time a given expression (e.g. a pro-form) refers to another contextual entity, anaphora is present. In a second, narrower sense, the term ''anaphora'' denotes the act of referring backwards in a dialog or text, such as referring to the left when an anaphor points to its left toward its antecedent in languages that are written from left to right. Etymologically, ''anaphora'' derives from
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Mycenaean Greek (), Dark Ages (), the Archaic ...
ἀναφορά (anaphorá, "a carrying back"), from ἀνά (aná, "up") + φέρω (phérō, "I carry"). In this narrow sense, anaphora stands in contrast to cataphora, which sees the act of referring forward in a dialog or text, or pointing to the right in languages that are written from left to right: Ancient Greek καταφορά (kataphorá, "a downward motion"), from κατά (katá, "downwards") + φέρω (phérō, "I carry"). A pro-form is a cataphor when it points to its right toward its postcedent. Both effects together are called either anaphora (broad sense) or less ambiguously, along with
self-reference Self-reference occurs in natural or formal languages when a sentence, idea or formula refers to itself. The reference may be expressed either directly—through some intermediate sentence or formula—or by means of some encoding. In philoso ...
they comprise the category of endophora. Examples of anaphora (in the narrow sense) and cataphora are given next. Anaphors and cataphors appear in bold, and their antecedents and postcedents are underlined: ::Anaphora (in the narrow sense, species of endophora) ::a. Susan dropped the plate. It shattered loudly. – The pronoun ''it'' is an anaphor; it points to the left toward its antecedent ''the plate''. ::b. The music stopped, and that upset everyone. – The demonstrative pronoun ''that'' is an anaphor; it points to the left toward its antecedent ''The music stopped''. ::c. Fred was angry, and so was I. – The adverb ''so'' is an anaphor; it points to the left toward its antecedent ''angry''. ::d. If Sam buys a new bike, I shall do it as well. – The verb phrase ''do it'' is an anaphor; it points to the left toward its antecedent ''buys a new bike''. ::Cataphora (included in the broad sense of anaphora, species of endophora) ::a. Because he was very cold, David put on his coat. – The pronoun ''he'' is a cataphor; it points to the right toward its postcedent ''David''. ::b. His friends have been criticizing Jim for exaggerating. – The possessive adjective ''his'' is a cataphor; it points to the right toward its postcedent ''Jim''. ::c. Although Sam might do so, I shall not buy a new bike. – The verb phrase ''do so'' is a cataphor; it points to the right toward its postcedent ''buy a new bike''. ::d. In their free time, the boys play video games. – The possessive adjective ''their'' is a cataphor; it points to the right toward its postcedent ''the boys''. A further distinction is drawn between endophoric and exophoric reference. Exophoric reference occurs when an expression, an exophor, refers to something that is not directly present in the linguistic context, but is rather present in the situational context. Deictic pro-forms are stereotypical exophors, e.g. ::Exophora ::a. This garden hose is better than that one. – The demonstrative adjectives ''this'' and ''that'' are exophors; they point to entities in the situational context. ::b. Jerry is standing over there. – The adverb ''there'' is an exophor; it points to a location in the situational context. Exophors cannot be anaphors as they do not substantially refer within the dialog or text, though there is a question of what portions of a conversation or document are accessed by a listener or reader with regard to whether all references to which a term points within that language stream are noticed (i.e., if you hear only a fragment of what someone says using the pronoun ''her'', you might never discover who ''she'' is, though if you heard the rest of what the speaker was saying on the same occasion, you might discover who ''she'' is, either by anaphoric revelation or by exophoric implication because you realize who ''she'' must be according to what else is said about ''her'' even if ''her'' identity is not explicitly mentioned, as in the case of homophoric reference). A listener might, for example, realize through listening to other clauses and sentences that ''she'' is ''a Queen'' because of some of her attributes or actions mentioned. But which queen? Homophoric reference occurs when a generic phrase obtains a specific meaning through knowledge of its context. For example, the referent of the phrase ''the Queen'' (using an emphatic
definite article An article is any member of a class of dedicated words that are used with noun phrases to mark the identifiability of the referents of the noun phrases. The category of articles constitutes a part of speech. In English, both "the" and "a(n)" ar ...
, not the less specific ''a Queen'', but also not the more specific ''Queen Elizabeth'') must be determined by the context of the utterance, which would identify the identity of the queen in question. Until further revealed by additional contextual words, gestures, images or other media, a listener would not even know what monarchy or historical period is being discussed, and even after hearing ''her'' name is ''Elizabeth'' does not know, even if an English-UK Queen Elizabeth becomes indicated, if this queen means ''Queen Elizabeth I'' or ''Queen Elizabeth II'' and must await further clues in additional communications. Similarly, in discussing 'The Mayor' (of a city), the Mayor's identity must be understood broadly through the context which the speech references as general 'object' of understanding; is a particular human person meant, a current or future or past office-holder, the office in a strict legal sense, or the office in a general sense which includes activities a mayor might conduct, might even be expected to conduct, while they may not be explicitly defined for this office.

In generative grammar

The term ''anaphor'' is used in a special way in the
generative grammar Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics as the study of a hypothesised innate grammatical structure. It is a biological or biologistic modification of earlier structuralist theories of linguisti ...
tradition. Here it denotes what would normally be called a reflexive or reciprocal pronoun, such as ''himself'' or ''each other'' in English, and analogous forms in other languages. The use of the term ''anaphor'' in this narrow sense is unique to generative grammar, and in particular, to the traditional binding theory. This theory investigates the syntactic relationship that can or must hold between a given pro-form and its antecedent (or postcedent). In this respect, anaphors (reflexive and reciprocal pronouns) behave very differently from, for instance, personal pronouns.

Complement anaphora

In some cases, anaphora may refer not to its usual antecedent, but to its
complement A complement is something that completes something else. Complement may refer specifically to: The arts * Complement (music), an interval that, when added to another, spans an octave ** Aggregate complementation, the separation of pitch-class ...
set. In the following example a, the anaphoric pronoun ''they'' refers to the children who are eating the ice-cream. Contrastingly, example b has ''they'' seeming to refer to the children who are not eating ice-cream: ::a. Only a few of the children ate their ice-cream. They ate the strawberry flavor first. – They meaning the children who ate ice-cream ::b. Only a few of the children ate their ice-cream. They threw it around the room instead. – They meaning either the children who did not eat ice-cream or perhaps the children who did not eat ice-cream and some of those who ate ice-cream but did not finish it or who threw around the ice-cream of those who did not eat it, or even all the children, those who ate ice-cream throwing around part of their ice-cream, the ice-cream of others, the same ice-cream which they may have eaten before or after throwing it, or perhaps only some of the children so that they does not mean to be all-inclusive In its narrower definition, an anaphoric pronoun must refer to some noun (phrase) that has already been introduced into the discourse. In complement anaphora cases, however, the anaphor refers to something that is not yet present in the discourse, since the pronoun's referent has not been formerly introduced, including the case of 'everything but' what has been introduced. The set of ice-cream-eating-children in example b is introduced into the discourse, but then the pronoun ''they'' refers to the set of non-ice-cream-eating-children, a set which has not been explicitly mentioned. Both
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and comput ...
pragmatics In linguistics and related fields, pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to meaning. The field of study evaluates how human language is utilized in social interactions, as well as the relationship between the interpreter and the int ...
considerations attend this phenomenon, which following
discourse representation theory In formal linguistics, discourse representation theory (DRT) is a framework for exploring meaning under a formal semantics approach. One of the main differences between DRT-style approaches and traditional Montagovian approaches is that DRT inclu ...
since the early 1980s, such as work by Kamp (1981) and Heim (File Change Semantics, 1982), and
generalized quantifier theory A generalization is a form of abstraction whereby common properties of specific instances are formulated as general concepts or claims. Generalizations posit the existence of a domain or set of elements, as well as one or more common character ...
, such as work by Barwise and Cooper (1981), was studied in a series of psycholinguistic experiments in the early 1990s by Moxey and Sanford (1993) and Sanford et al. (1994). In complement anaphora as in the case of the pronoun in example b, this anaphora refers to some sort of complement set (i.e. only to the set of non-ice-cream-eating-children) or to the
maximal set In recursion theory, the mathematical theory of computability, a maximal set is a coinfinite recursively enumerable subset ''A'' of the natural numbers such that for every further recursively enumerable subset ''B'' of the natural numbers, eithe ...
(i.e. to all the children, both ice-cream-eating-children and non-ice-cream-eating-children) or some hybrid or variant set, including potentially one of those noted to the right of example b. The various possible referents in complement anaphora are discussed by Corblin (1996), Kibble (1997), and Nouwen (2003). Resolving complement anaphora is of interest in shedding light on brain access to
information Information is an abstract concept that refers to that which has the power to inform. At the most fundamental level information pertains to the interpretation of that which may be sensed. Any natural process that is not completely rando ...
calculation A calculation is a deliberate mathematical process that transforms one or more inputs into one or more outputs or ''results''. The term is used in a variety of senses, from the very definite arithmetical calculation of using an algorithm, to t ...
, mental modeling,
communication Communication (from la, communicare, meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is usually defined as the transmission of information. The term may also refer to the message communicated through such transmissions or the field of inquir ...

Anaphora resolution – centering theory

There are many theories that attempt to prove how anaphors are related and trace back to their antecedents, with centering theory (Grosz, Joshi, and Weinstein 1983) being one of them. Taking the computational theory of mind view of language, centering theory gives a computational analysis of underlying antecedents. In their original theory, Grosz, Joshi, & Weinstein (1983) propose that some discourse entities in utterances are more "central" than others, and this degree of centrality imposes constraints on what can be the antecedent. In the theory, there are different types of centers: forward facing, backwards facing, and preferred.

Forward facing centers

A ranked list of discourse entities in an utterance. The ranking is debated, some focusing on theta relations (Yıldırım et al. 2004) and some providing definitive lists.

Backwards facing center

The highest ranked discourse entity in the previous utterance.

Preferred center

The highest ranked discourse entity in the previous utterance realised in the current utterance.

See also

* * * * * * * * * – A phenomenon sometimes viewed as modal or temporal anaphora *



* *Bussmann, H., G. Trauth, and K. Kazzazi 1998. ''Routledge dictionary of language and linguistics''. Taylor and Francis. *Chomsky, N. 1981/1993. ''Lectures on government and binding: The Pisa lectures''. Mouton de Gruyter. *Corblin, F. 1996. "Quantification et anaphore discursive: la reference aux comple-mentaires". ''Linguages''. 123, 51–74. *Grosz, Barbara J.; Joshi, Aravind K.; and Weinstein, Scott (1983)
"Providing a unified account of definite noun phrases in discourse"
In ''Proceedings, 21st Annual Meeting of the Association of Computational Linguistics''. 44–50. *Kibble, R. 1997. "Complement anaphora and dynamic binding". In ''Proceedings from Semantics and Linguistic Theory'' VII, ed. A. Lawson, 258–275. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University. *McEnery, T. 2000. ''Corpus-based and computational approaches to discourse anaphora''. John Benjamins. *Moxey, L. and A. Sanford 1993. ''Communicating quantities: A psychological perspective''. Laurence Erlbaum Associates. *Nouwen, R. 2003. "Complement anaphora and interpretation". ''Journal of Semantics'', 20, 73–113. *Sanford, A., L. Moxey and K. Patterson 1994. "Psychological studies of quantifiers". ''Journal of Semantics'' 11, 153–170. *Schmolz, H. 2015. ''Anaphora Resolution and Text Retrieval. A Linguistic Analysis of Hypertexts''. De Gruyter. *Tognini-Bonelli, E. 2001. ''Corpus linguistics at work''. John Benjamins. *Yıldırım, Savaş & Kiliçaslan, Yilmaz & Erman Aykaç, R. 2004. ''A Computational Model for Anaphora Resolution in Turkish via Centering Theory: an Initial Approach''. 124–128.

External links


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