referent
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A referent () is a person or thing to which a
name A name is a term used for identification by an external observer. They can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a given context. The entity identified by a name is called its referent. A person ...

name
– a
linguistic
linguistic
expression
expression
or other
symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different ...

symbol
refers. For example, in the sentence ''Mary saw me'', the referent of the word ''Mary'' is the particular person called Mary who is being spoken of, while the referent of the word ''me'' is the person uttering the sentence. Two expressions which have the same referent are said to be co-referential. In the sentence ''John had his dog with him'', for instance, the
noun A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Organism, Living creatures (including people ...

noun
''John'' and the
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (list of glossing abbreviations, 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 part of speech, parts o ...

pronoun
''him'' are co-referential, since they both refer to the same person (John).


Etymology and meanings

The word ''referent'' may be considered to derive from the Latin ''referentem'', the
present participle In linguistics, a participle () (from Latin ' a "sharing, partaking") is a nonfinite verb, nonfinite verb form that has some of the characteristics and functions of both verbs and adjectives. More narrowly, ''participle'' has been defined as "a wo ...
(in accusative form) of the verb ''referre'' ("carry back", see also etymology of ''refer(ence)''); or simply from the addition of the suffix ''-ent'' to the verb ''refer'' on the model of other English words having that suffix. It is defined in the
Merriam-Webster Merriam-Webster, Inc. is an American company that publishes reference work, reference books and is especially known for its dictionary, dictionaries. It is the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States. In 1831, George Merriam, George a ...
Dictionary as "one that refers or is referred to; especially: the thing that a symbol (as a word or sign) stands for." The earliest meaning of ''referent'' recorded in the ''
Oxford English Dictionary The ''Oxford English Dictionary'' (''OED'') is the first and foundational historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a com ...
'' is "one who is referred to or consulted", dating from 1844. A subsequent meaning is "a word referring to another"; the OED gives only one citation for this use, dating from 1899 (which speaks of "referent words or referents" that express a relation). The next meaning, which appears to stand in opposition to the previous meaning, as well as to the meaning implied by the etymology, is nonetheless the one which has gained currency: "that to which something articularly a word or expressionhas reference". This sense is first recorded in Ogden and Richards' '' The Meaning of Meaning'' (1923; see further below); the OED also lists numerous subsequent examples of that usage. In
logic Logic is the study of correct reasoning. It includes both Mathematical logic, formal and informal logic. Formal logic is the science of Validity (logic), deductively valid inferences or of logical truths. It is a formal science investigating h ...

logic
, the word ''referent'' is sometimes used to denote one of the two objects participating in a relation, the other being called the relatum.


In semantics and philosophy

In fields such as
semantics Semantics (from grc, wikt:σημαντικός, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, Meaning (philosophy), meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct discipline ...
,
semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes (semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves Sign (semiotics), signs, where a sign is defined as anything that commun ...

semiotics
, and the theory of reference, a distinction is made between a referent and a
reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a ''name'' ...
. Reference is a relationship in which a
symbol A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different ...

symbol
or
sign A sign is an Physical object, object, quality (philosophy), quality, event, or Non-physical entity, entity whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else. A natural sign bears a causal relation to ...

sign
(a word, for example) signifies something; the referent is the thing signified. The referent may be an actual person or object, or may be something more abstract, such as a set of actions. Reference and referents were considered at length in the 1923 book '' The Meaning of Meaning'' by the
Cambridge Cambridge ( ) is a College town, university city and the county town in Cambridgeshire, England. It is located on the River Cam approximately north of London. As of the 2021 United Kingdom census, the population of Cambridge was 145,700. Cam ...
scholars C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards. Ogden has pointed out that reference is a psychological process, and that referents themselves may be psychological – existing in the imagination of the referrer, and not necessarily in the real world. For further ideas related to this observation, see failure to refer.


In syntax

Considerations of the possible arrangement of expressions which may be ''co-referential'' – having the same referent – have been undertaken by
linguist Linguistics is the science, 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 ...
s engaged in the study of
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentence (linguistics), sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence st ...

syntax
, particularly since
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American public intellectual: a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky is ...

Noam Chomsky
's launch of
Government and Binding Theory A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature A legislature is an deliberative as ...
(GBT) in the 1980s. The subject of binding is largely concerned with the possible syntactic positions of co-referential
noun phrase In linguistics, a noun phrase, or nominal (phrase), is a phrase that has a noun or pronoun as its head (linguistics), head or performs the same Grammar, grammatical function as a noun. Noun phrases are very common linguistic typology, cross-lingui ...
s and
pronoun In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun (list of glossing abbreviations, 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 part of speech, parts o ...

pronoun
s. Attempts are made to explain phenomena such as that illustrated by the following pair of sentences: *Before she dried off, Mary was wet. *She dried off because Mary was wet. In the first sentence, ''she'' and ''Mary'' may have the same referent (''she'' may refer to Mary), but in the second they normally cannot. More details of these considerations can be found in the articles on GBT and binding linked to above.


In computing

Considerations of
references Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a ''name'' ...
and their referents are sometimes of importance in
computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computer, computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes, and development of both computer hardware , hardware and software. ...

computing
and programming. References play a role in the
Perl Perl is a family of two high-level, general-purpose, interpreted, dynamic programming languages. "Perl" refers to Perl 5, but from 2000 to 2019 it also referred to its redesigned "sister language", Perl 6, before the latter's name was offi ...
programming language, for example, and the ''ref'' function is used to obtain the type of the referent of an object.''ref''
perldoc.perl.org


See also

* * * *


References


External links

* {{Wiktionary-inline, referent * SIL Glossary of Linguistic Terms
referent
Semantics