Regarding terminology used by CEGL as referenced in this question, can anyone explain the difference between addressee-new and discourse-new?

My understanding of addressee-new is that this refers to something being spoken of which has not previously been told to the person being spoken to.

My understanding of discourse-new is that this refers to something which has not yet been introduced into the discourse.

How are they different? The only idea I can come up with is that the "discourse" must be about something. If I consider that "subject" to have any kind of objective reality, I can imagine new things happening to it, but wouldn't they then be subject-new?

1 Answer 1


My (unofficial, unendorsed) thoughts on the matter:

The difference as I observe it can be seen in the vice president example. Though the VP hadn't yet been mentioned, s/he isn't a new concept per se. Mentioning 'the vice president' for the first time, I think, would be addressee-new but not discourse-new. My hunch is the article has something to do with this; the use of 'the' gives away that the VP is a known entity. (Since example #4 uses the VP as an example of discourse-new, though, I could be plain wrong.)

If we were to say 'Behind the president there was an explosion', this is entirely new information, both unmentioned and (for all but the bomber) unanticipated. This would be discourse-new (and introduced with an indirect object).

(I now await a real linguist to demolish my attempt to grapple with these concepts. For the record, I would have submitted this as a comment but ended up, as usual, being verbose.)

  • 2
    haha - CEGL is doing a good job of tying us up in knots on this one. Introducing an explosion to muddy things even more might be a bit underhand though. I'm assuming the usage we're talking about is somehow intimately bound up with the idea that the relevant "discourse" is in fact the verbal "painting of a scene". In which case you'd pretty much have to mention the explosion first, rather than tack it on in the nature of an afterthought (the finishing brush-strokes, so to speak). Sep 23, 2011 at 16:58
  • btw - your thoughts are helpful to me, and I have upvoted them, but you'll understand I can't accept it as an answer. As you say, some comments that are worth making are simply too long to fit into a comment box. Sep 23, 2011 at 17:00
  • Whenever I'm stuck, I introduce an explosion. It tends to clarify things.
    – user13141
    Sep 23, 2011 at 21:21

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