Ambiguity and quantification

Linguistics and Philosophy 4 (2):259 - 309 (1981)
In the opening sections of this paper, we defined ambiguity in terms of distinct sentences (for a single sentence-string) with, in particular, distinct sets of truth conditions for the corresponding negative sentence-string. Lexical vagueness was defined as equivalent to disjunction, for under conditions of the negation of a sentence-string containing such an expression, all the relevant more specific interpretations of the string had also to be negated. Yet in the case of mixed quantification sentences, the strengthened, more specific, interpretations of some such positive string are not all of them necessarily implied to be false if the corresponding negative sentence-string is asserted. On the contrary, as we saw in section 6, a negative sentence-string can be used to deny one of the more specific interpretations of the corresponding positive string without also denying other weaker interpretations of that same string. One might therefore argue that the only empirical evidence availble for assessing quantified sentences suggests clearly that these sentence-strings are ambiguous. Indeed logicians, many of whom restrict their attention to propositions, MUST recognise logical ambiguity at this point. For the contextualisation of the negative sentences in section 6 showed that it was possible to assert the falsity of some proposition P expressed by the sentence S while asserting a further proposition which was compatible with the truth of S. However the corresponding conclusion that such sentence-strings are sententially ambiguous is not a necessary conclusion for the linguist: for the alternative account of postulating a single semantic representation plus a set of semantic procedures is also compatible with the negation evidence. Moreover we have seen independent reasons for thinking that if sentential ambiguity is assumed to be in one-to-one correspondence with what we should now call logical ambiguity, a considerable body of generalisations is lost. For the maximal ambiguity account, it should be recalled, is committed to assigning at least thirteen distinct propositions and hence thirteen distinct sentence outputs for every sentence-string containing no more than two quantifiers, for three out of the four interpretations originally outlined in this paper can be understood with each numeral taken either in an ’exactly’ sense or in an ’at least’ sense. Moreover there is no explanation of why just these interpretations are available-they are merely an arbitrary list, no more connected than are the two interpretations of John saw her duck, with no reason to predict that the ambiguity would carry over from language to language. If then it is granted that an ambiguity account fails to capture appropriate generalisations, only two alternative accounts of mixed quantification sentence-strings remain viable-an analysis proposing an initial co-ordinate logical form like the logical form III, which is the strongest form compatible with each of the propositional interpretations of sentence-string Two examiners marked six scripts, and the radically weak form in which only existential quantification (both over sets and over members of those sets) is invoked. Since there are strong arguments to suggest that the procedures which both analyses require are semantic, there seems no reason not to adopt the radical vagueness account, with its considerably greater simplicity
Keywords in   language   natural   quantifiers
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 10,350
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Jay David Atlas (1977). Negation, Ambiguity, and Presupposition. Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (3):321 - 336.
Herbert Paul Grice (1967/1987). Logic and Conversation. In Paul Grice (ed.), Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press. 41-58.

View all 8 references

Citations of this work BETA

View all 21 citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

21 ( #78,323 of 1,096,702 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

5 ( #53,220 of 1,096,702 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.