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In this sentence, what does that refer to, them or element?

We will use the symbol 'R' for the element in them that is anaphorically related to an antecedent.

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  • It doesn't refer to anything, It's simply a meaningless subordinator introducing the relative clause "that is anaphorically related to an antecedent". Have you thoroughly read the material that contained that quote?
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 16:55
  • There is a certain irony about asking a question about the use anaphora in a text that describes in detail the use of anaphora.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 9, 2023 at 19:46

2 Answers 2

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The relative pronoun "that" refers to "the element in them".

We can replace it and get a meaningful clause that fits the context:

the element in them is anaphorically related to an antecedent.

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We will use the symbol 'R' for the element in them [that is anaphorically related to an antecedent].

"That" doesn't refer to anything. It's not a relative pronoun but simply a meaningless subordinator functioning as a marker introducing the bracketed relative clause.

The relativised element, 'R', is represented by the gap notation '___', which in this case is in subject position, and it's this gap, not "that", which refers to the antecedent, the nominal "element in them".

We will use the symbol 'R' for the element in them [that ___ is anaphorically related to an antecedent].

In other words it's not "that" which is anaphoric, but the gap '___'.

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