Discourse - Retrospection and Prospection.

A major feature of language is that spoken discourse has prospective features - it constantly prospects ahead. The scene is set for the next utterance by the utterance going on at the moment, without determining exactly what will happen.

Most analysis of text so far has concerned complex patterns emerging, linking parts of a text to each other. The common sense view is that people generally forget the actual language but remember the message. From this, we can ask if we actually need the amount of linguistic detail in backward references that we find in some texts. Text has been described as a long string of sentences, which draw links together.

In his paper, Sinclair proposes that the most important thing is "What is Happening in the Current Sentence". The meaning of any word is got from the state of the discourse, and not from its source. The reader should find a value for a word (referencing pronoun, proper name or a noun phrase) from the immediate state of the text, and not have to retrieve it from its source in previous text.

The state of the discourse is identified with the sentence which is currently being processed. The previous text (to the current sentence) is part of the immediate previous experience of the reader or listener, and is no different to any other previous (non-linguistic) experience. It will normally have lost the features which were used to organise the meaning and to shape the text into a unique communicative instrument. From this perspective, there is nothing to be gained from tracing back references in the text - nothing will be added to the current state of the discourse, nor is it important how the present state of the text was arrived at.

The prospection of a sentence remains pertinent until fulfilled or challenged, although the sentence may no longer be available in the normal business of talking or writing. Prospected sentences do not (need not) contain an act of reference (back), though they may themselves prospect forward. If a sentence is not prospected by a predecessor, it encapsulates it , and in so doing becomes the text. (Sinclair, 1994, p.14 - 17 references)

This gives an idea of the way that we communicate and 'keep up" with time and each other in our discourses

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