Volume 44, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0378-4177
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9978
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It is often claimed that reference tracking is a key function of nominal classification systems, not least because of the role such systems can play in referent disambiguation. This paper reports on the results of a comparative study of reference in texts from four languages, focusing specifically on the disambiguating function of nominal classification. The results strongly suggest that disambiguation is not a primary function of nominal classification systems. While gender and/or classifiers sometimes contribute to the avoidance of referential conflict, the reality is that the conditions have to be just right – all competing references must be of opposing genders, and those genders must be formally distinct – and this happens with surprisingly low frequency. We are better off viewing disambiguation as a convenient by-product of nominal classification systems that a language can exploit when conditions allow.


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