Definition and Examples of "Exophora" in English Grammar


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In English grammar, exophora is the use of a pronoun or other word or phrase to refer to someone or something outside the text. Contrast with endophora

Adjective: exophoric

Pronunciation: EX-o-for-uh

Also known as: exophoric reference

Etymology: From the Greek, "beyond" + "carry"

Exophoric pronouns, says Rom Harré, "are those which are disambiguated for reference only if the hearer is fully apprised of the context of use, for instance by being present on the occasion of utterance" ("Some Narrative Conventions of Scientific Discourse," 1990).

Because exophoric reference is so dependent on context, it's more commonly found in speech and in dialogue than in expository prose.

Examples and Observations

  • "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere... Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [Member of audience says, 'intellect.'] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?"
    (Sojourner Truth, "Ain't I a Woman?" 1851)

Examples of Exophoric References in Conversation

"The excerpt below, taken from a conversation between two people discussing real estate listings, contains a number of instances of exophoric reference, all highlighted in [italics]:

Speaker A: I'm hungry. Ooh look at that. Six bedrooms. Jesus. It's quite cheap for six bedrooms isn't it seventy thou. Not that we could afford it anyway. Is that the one you were on about?
Speaker B:
Don't know.

The personal pronouns I, we, and you are each exophoric because they refer to the individuals engaged in the conversation. The pronoun I refers to the speaker, we to both the speaker and the person being addressed, and you to the addressee. The pronoun that is also exophoric because this pronoun refers to a particular description in a written text that the two speakers are reading together."
(Charles F. Meyer, Introducing English Linguistics. Cambridge University Press, 2010)

The Multi-Exophoric You

"In discourse in general, the third person pronouns may be either endophoric, referring to a noun phrase within the text... or exophoric, referring to someone or something manifest to the participants from the situation or from their mutual knowledge ('Here he is,' for example, on seeing someone who both sender and receiver are expecting)... "In songs, 'you' ... is multi-exophoric, as it may refer to many people in the actual and fictional situation. Take for example:

Well in my heart you are my darling,
At my gate you're welcome in,
At my gate I'll meet you darling,
If your love I could only win.

This is the plea of one lover to another... The receiver of the song is apparently overhearing one half of a dialogue. "I" is the singer, and "you" is her lover. Alternatively, and most frequently, especially away from live performance, the receiver projects herself into the persona of the addresser and hears the song as though it is her own words to her own lover. Alternatively, the listener may project herself into the persona of the singer's lover and hear the singer addressing her."
(Guy Cook, The Discourse of Advertising. Routledge, 1992)

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of "Exophora" in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of "Exophora" in English Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of "Exophora" in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).