Suppose a woman was surprised to learn, while eating lunch at a local restaurant, that her company's chief financial officer, who is her immediate supervisor, was just arrested for embezzling. She might exclaim,
1. Kore/*sore/*are wa taihen da!
This/*that/*that is serious!
(The symbol * is a shorthand notation meaning these versions, marked with a *, that is, Sore wa taihen da! and Are wa taihen da!, are inappropriate or grammatically incorrect for this situation, while Kore wa taihen da! is appropriate or grammatically correct.) Here the appropriate choice would be kore, not sore or are to refer to this turn of event. The general impression she gives, if she were to say any one of the inappropriate utterances, is that she is somehow unnaturally detached or distant from the event, unaffected or uninterested in this event. (Think about if "That is serious!" conveys the same sort of distant meaning in English if it was used in this situation. Would "This is serious" be more appropriate to show how this event is impacting the speaker?) In Japanese kore is the most appropriate choice here. Imagine another situation. This time, suppose Ali tells Bop about a musician she knows (and she assumes that Bop does not know him). She says his name is Sayama and continues
2. Kono/*Sono/*Ano hito jitsu wa mae wa keisatsukan datta n desu
This/*That/*That man, to tell you the truth, was a policeman before.
The kono version is most preferred and the other two are inappropriate. Why? In general kono, in the abstract domain, is appropriate when referring to information that the speaker asserts control over or has intimate connection to it. Thus, only kono in this case is appropriate, since the only the speaker herself, and not the addressee, knows Sayama.
In contrast when the speaker uses sono, like 3 below in response to sentence 2 above, she is characterizing or acknowledging that the information about the object referred to belongs to the addressee's control or domain.
3. Hee, *kono/sono/*ano hito itsu kara shitte iru n desu ka?
Really? How long have you known him (lit. that person)?
Further consider the following example involving ano 'that.' Here assume the following context, where the speaker Ali and Bop both know Casey well. Ali and Bop are talking about Casey is getting married to a rich person.
4. a: Casey ga kekkon suru tte shitte ru?
Do you know Casey is getting married?
b: N, *kono/*sono/ano hito ne okanemochi to kekkon suru n da tte
Yeah she (lit. that woman) is marrying a rich person, I heard.
Example 4b shows ano is used to mark a person both Ali and Bop know about. In this context, once Casey has been brought into conversation, she can be referred to with ano.