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Referring to Somebody:Generic Person Reference as an Interactional Resource

  • Author(s): Whitehead, Kevin A.
  • Lerner, Gene H.
  • et al.
Abstract

A growing body of research, examining a wide spectrum of reference forms across diverse languages, cultures, and identities, has shown how references to persons can be selected for context-specific interactional outcomes. This report describes how even such simple forms of person reference as somebody (along with someone and a/the person) can be selected on the basis of their relevance for the specific interactional context in which they are employed. We consider how the particular circumstances of some person reference occasions can make these generic person reference forms specially relevant (even when other, more elaborated forms of reference, either recognitional or non-recognitional, were evidently available to the speaker), and we demonstrate how even these barest forms of person reference can be called on to perform delicate, context-sensitive interactional work. Specifically, we show that speakers can select these generic reference forms for non-recognitional references that a) contribute to the formation of the action of a turn, and, when used in a story, b) contribute to the story’s telling. Finally, we show how a generic person reference can be selected in place of a recognitional reference, thereby openly concealing a referent’s identity.

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