For a somewhat more extended example, we can refer to a narrative for children about a Velveteen Rabbit. After this Velveteen Rabbit has been introduced, there are anaphoric references to this rabbit, forming a reference chain that runs throughout the narrative. The chain running through the extract consists of the following items:
[a velveteen rabbit] – he – his (coat) – his (ears) – he – his (paws) – him – the Velveteen Rabbit – he – he – him – ... – the Rabbit – he – him
Several of these reference items occur within the Theme (thematic references underlined): while reference items can occur anywhere, there is an unmarked relationship between referential identifiability and status as Given information, and between Given and Theme. There is therefore a strong tendency for reference items to be thematic. Most of the anaphoric references involve simply a personal pronoun or a possessive determiner; there are only two references with demonstrative the as Deictic and the lexical noun rabbit as Thing. This is the typical pattern in extended reference chains.
To be clear, the unacknowledged source of the term 'reference chain' is Martin (1992: 140), which is, itself, his relabelling of Hasan's original notion of an identity chain (Halliday & Hasan 1989 : 84ff). However, this is subtly inconsistent with the notion of cohesive reference, and can lead to confusing reference with lexical cohesion. To explain:
As Halliday & Hasan (1976: 329, 330) point out:
The basic concept that is employed in analysing the cohesion of a text is that of a tie… [which]… includes not only the cohesive element itself but also that which is presupposed by it. A tie is best interpreted as a relation between these two elements. …
The presupposed item may itself be cohesive, presupposing another item that is still further back; in this way there may be a whole chain of presuppositions before the original target item is reached…:
The last word ended in a long bleat, so like a sheep that Alice quite started (1). She looked at the Queen, who seemed to have suddenly wrapped herself up in wool (2). Alice rubbed her eyes, and looked again (3). She couldn't make out what had happened at all (4). Was she in a shop (5)? And was that really — was it really a sheep that was sitting on the other side of the counter (6)? Rub as she would, she could make nothing more of it (7).
…the she in (5) has as the target of its presupposition another instance of she, that in (4); and in order to resolve it we have to follow this through to the occurrence of Alice in (3). We shall call this type a mediated tie.
In short, cohesive reference is a relation between reference item and referent, and this relation may be mediated by intervening reference items. It is not a chain of nominal groups, as misinterpreted in Martin's (1992) relabelling of reference as IDENTIFICATION.
Because Matthiessen tries to accommodate Martin's misunderstandings ('reference chain', 'tracking') in his rewriting of Halliday's exposition of reference, it is strongly recommended that serious scholars who want a theoretically consistent understanding of it should consult Halliday & Hasan (1976), and Halliday (1985, 1994).