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Summary Indefinite descriptions like "a G" have received somewhat less attention than their definite cousins.  Traditionally, these were taken to contribute a restricted existential claim (restricted by the overt descriptive material) to the the semantic content expressed by the utterance.  More recently, however, many have noted that indefinite descriptions allow for a "specific" reading—that is, a reading on which they are used to talk about specific objects.  This raises a question of semantic import parallel to that of how to account for "referential uses" of definite descriptions.  Other outstanding questions regarding indefinite descriptions include how to account for their behavior in intensional contexts and whether what distinguishes them from definites is ultimately a matter of semantics or pragmatics.
Key works Russell 1905 provided the outline of what has become the standard theory of indefinites in the course of his discussion of definite descriptions.  This analysis treated indefinites as having bare existential import.  Chastain 1975 argued that this analysis could not properly account for specific readings of indefinites and, in particular, the role they play in grounding anaphoric chains.  This sort of argument is expanded in Donnellan 1979.  More recently, Edelberg 1986 has raised a number of difficult puzzles regarding how to account for indefinites in intensional contexts and Szabó 2000 has proposed a unified semantic analysis of both definite and indefinite descriptions.
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  1. Barbara Abbott, Specificity and Referentiality.
  2. Barbara Abbott, The Difference Between Definite and Indefinite Descriptions.
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  3. Barbara Abbott (2003). A Reply to Szabó's “Descriptions and Uniqueness”. Philosophical Studies 113 (3):223 - 231.
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  4. Barbara Abbott, Definiteness and Indefiniteness.
    The prototypes of definiteness and indefiniteness in English are the definite article the and the indefinite article a/an, and singular noun phrases (NPs)1 determined by them. That being the case it is not to be predicted that the concepts, whatever their content, will extend satisfactorily to other determiners or NP types. However it has become standard to extend these notions. Of the two categories definites have received rather more attention, and more than one researcher has characterized the category of definite (...)
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  5. Barbara Abbott & Laurence R. Hom, Nonfamiliarity and Indefinite Descriptions.
    Grice introduced generalized conversational implicatures with the following example: "Anyone who uses a sentence of the formX is meeting tz woman this evening would normally implicate that the person to be met was someone other than X’s wife, mother, sister, or perhaps even close platonic friend" (1975 : 37). Concerning this example, he suggested the following account: When someone, by using the form of expression an JQ implicates that the X does not belong to or is not otherwise closely connected (...)
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  6. Maria Aloni, Epistemic Indefinites Cross-Linguistically.
    (1) Somebody arrived late. (Guess who?/Namely Mary) a. Conventional meaning: Somebody arrived late b. Ignorance implicature: The speaker doesn’t know who..
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  7. Robert A. Alps & Robert C. Neveln (1981). A Predicate Logic Based on Indefinite Description and Two Notions of Identity. Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 22 (3):251-263.
  8. Ermanno Bencivenga (1978). Free Semantics for Indefinite Descriptions. Journal of Philosophical Logic 7 (1):389 - 405.
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  9. Adrian Brasoveanu & Donka F. Farkas (2011). How Indefinites Choose Their Scope. Linguistics and Philosophy 34 (1):1-55.
    The paper proposes a novel solution to the problem of scope posed by natural language indefinites that captures both the difference in scopal freedom between indefinites and bona fide quantifiers and the syntactic sensitivity that the scope of indefinites does nevertheless exhibit. Following the main insight of choice functional approaches, we connect the special scopal properties of indefinites to the fact that their semantics can be stated in terms of choosing a suitable witness. This is in contrast to bona fide (...)
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  10. Samuel Cumming (2014). Indefinites and Intentional Identity. Philosophical Studies 168 (2):371-395.
    This paper investigates the truth conditions of sentences containing indefinite noun phrases, focusing on occurrences in attitude reports, and, in particular, a puzzle case due to Walter Edelberg. It is argued that indefinites semantically contribute the (thought-)object they denote, in a manner analogous to attributive definite descriptions. While there is an existential reading of attitude reports containing indefinites, it is argued that the existential quantifier is contributed by the de re interpretation of the indefinite (as the de re reading adds (...)
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  11. Paul Dekker (2002). Meaning and Use of Indefinite Expressions. Journal of Logic, Language and Information 11 (2):141-194.
    Sentences containing pronouns and indefinite noun phrases can be said toexpress open propositions, propositions which display gaps to be filled.This paper addresses the question what is the linguistic content ofthese expressions, what information they can be said to provide to ahearer, and in what sense the information of a speaker can be said tosupport their utterance. We present and motivate first order notions ofcontent, update and support. The three notions are each defined in acompositional fashion and brought together within a (...)
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  12. Walter Edelberg (1992). Intentional Identity and the Attitudes. Linguistics and Philosophy 15 (6):561 - 596.
  13. Walter Edelberg (1986). A New Puzzle About Intentional Identity. Journal of Philosophical Logic 15 (1):1 - 25.
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  14. Ian Hacking (1968). A Theory of Indefinite Descriptions with an Application to Probability. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 46 (2):98 – 111.
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  15. Jeffrey C. King (1988). Are Indefinite Descriptions Ambiguous? Philosophical Studies 53 (3):417 - 440.
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  16. Peter Ludlow & Stephen Neale (1991). Indefinite Descriptions: In Defense of Russell. [REVIEW] Linguistics and Philosophy 14 (2):171 - 202.
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  17. Francesco Pupa (2008). Ambiguous Articles: An Essay On The Theory Of Descriptions. Dissertation, The Graduate Center, CUNY
    What, from a semantic perspective, is the difference between singular indefinite and definite descriptions? Just over a century ago, Russell provided what has become the standard philosophical response. Descriptions are quantifier phrases, not referring expressions. As such, they differ with respect to the quantities they denote. Indefinite descriptions denote existential quantities; definite descriptions denote uniquely existential quantities. Now around the 1930s and 1940s, some linguists, working independently of philosophers, developed a radically different response. Descriptions, linguists such as Jespersen held, were (...)
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  18. Jordan Howard Sobel (1983). Names and Indefinite Descriptions in Ontological Arguments. Dialogue 22 (02):195-202.
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  19. George Wilson (1978). On Definite and Indefinite Descriptions. Philosophical Review 87 (1):48-76.
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  20. Zsófia Zvolenszky (2007). Incomplete Descriptions, Incomplete Quantified Expressions (Part of the Dissertation Portfolio Modality, Names and Descriptions). Dissertation, New York University
    This paper offers a unified, quantificational treatment of incomplete descriptions like ‘the table’. An incomplete quantified expression like ‘every bottle’ (as in “Every bottle is empty”) can feature in true utterances despite the fact that the world contains nonempty bottles. Positing a contextual restriction on the bottles being talked about is a straightforward solution. It is argued that the same strategy can be extended to incomplete definite descriptions across the board. ncorporating the contextual restrictions into semantics involves meeting a complex (...)
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