Referring to arbitrary entities with placeholders

Tohru Seraku
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

Abstract

A speaker/writer uses a placeholder (PH) to fill in the syntactic slot of a target word when she has no immediate access to the word or prefers to avoid explicitly mentioning it for contextual reasons. In the present article, I point out a hitherto understudied usage of PHs: a speaker/writer who does not have in mind a specific target form may use a PH to refer to an arbitrary entity (e.g. person, object, action, event, proposition). I substantiate this claim by analysing a variety of original data on Japanese wh-derived PHs. Further evidence for this claim comes from a cross-linguistic survey of wh-derived PHs in Korean and demonstrative-derived PHs in Romanian and Bulgarian. I show that the arbitrary-referential function is observed in PHs in all these languages, regardless of their origins (i.e. wh word, demonstrative) and their categories (i.e. nominal, verbal).

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

There is a growing body of work on placeholders (PHs) in language studies (Hayashi and Yoon 2006; Amiridze et al. 2010; see Seraku 2020 for further references). A PH is used to fill in the syntactic slot of a target word when (i) a speaker has no immediate access to the target word or (ii) though the target word is accessible, she prefers to avoid verbalising it for contextual reasons. For illustration, consider English what-d’you-call-it in (1).

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Corpora

The Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese (BCCWJ): The National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics
The Corpus of Historical Japanese: The National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics
The Corpus of Spontaneous Japanese (CSJ): The National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics
The NINJAL Web Japanese Corpus (NWJC): The National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics
The Sejong Corpus: The National Institute of Korean Language