The use of a nonlinguistic context of a conversation in order to make a linguistic referent clear--for example, saying "The man" when only one man is in the room.

Exophora is a word used in linguistics for how a word or phrase acquires meaning from the context in which it is used. A phrase is "exophoric", an instance of exophora, if it is a symbol for a referent that either depends on or varies according to the context.

In the simplest type of exophora, the symbol refers to a single referent (although the referent itself may be plural). If a speaker talks about "our Head of State", for example, they are referring to a single person, irrespective of whether anyone in the audience knows who that person actually is.

In a more complex type of exophora, the symbol may have different referents for different participants in the linguistic act. Addressed to a row of people as individuals, "the person on your left" is intended to refer to a different person for each individual in the row (or to nobody). Similarly, if I write "the browser you are using", I expect each individual reader to evaluate the symbol separately. In this case, however, I'm also allowing for the possibility that you will read this more than once, and the browser I'm referring to may well be different on each occasion. Even if it is the same browser each time, I would argue that the symbol has a different referent, just as if two readers happen to be using the same browser. That is, the symbol's referent varies even if the identity of the referent is constant.

Be that as it may, there is a still more complex type of exophoric reference, where the referent continues to vary after the linguistic act. We need to be careful here to distinguish between a reference to something that varies, like "next Tuesday's weather", and a dynamic reference to something (whether or not that is something that varies). If I suggest that you look at the Everything2 node for "each new word that you learn", the words in question are currently unknowable in principle. But I am referring not to all the words you will ever learn, nor to those whose nodes you ultimately view; I am referring to each word separately. So if I go on: "to see if the word has any good writeups", my endophoric "the word" is bound to a single interpretation of the symbol "each new word that you learn".

Go forth and node, exophoric noder!

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