Article published in:Usage-based and Typological Approaches to Linguistic Units
Edited by Tsuyoshi Ono, Ritva Laury and Ryoko Suzuki
[Studies in Language 43:2] 2019
► pp. 329–363
Referring expressions in categorizing activities
Rethinking the nature of linguistic units for the study of interaction
Linguistic units as traditionally conceived by linguists favor structural features and referential meanings. In this paper, we propose a new way of understanding the nature of linguistic units by analyzing the interaction of multiple semiotic resources (gestures, bodily movement, eye gaze and speech) in social interaction. We focus on the discursive activity of “categorizing” in different situations and in two languages, English and Mandarin Chinese. Categorizing is broadly defined as any activity that involves explicitly or implicitly classifying people or objects into types. We show that the meanings of linguistic units (including the referential) may be distorted or incomplete when forms are extracted from their contexts and analyzed in isolation. Instead, we argue that an interactional, activity-based view, focusing on the deployment of linguistic elements as part of a coordinated system of semiotic resources, will enable us to understand the nature of linguistic units in a more productive way.
Keywords: categorizing, linguistic unit, referentialism, activity, semiotic resource
Published online: 13 November 2019
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