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Glossary of Literary Theory
Reference / referent:
The object in the external world to which a sign
may or may not point. As a signifier, "cat"
must be differentiated from all other signifiers
which are similar ("bat," "cab" and so forth); as a
signified, it must be linked with a concept ("a
carnivorous mammal . . ."); as a referent, it must correspond to a
real existent in the world. Unlike "cat," "unicorn"
is a sign that has no referent. Structural linguistics, phenomenology,
structuralism, and poststructuralism
deliberately banish any consideration of the referent.
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