About this topic
Summary A number of issues have arisen in the course of inquiry into the semantics and pragmatics of descriptions that cross-cut traditional lines of debate.  Such issues include, inter alia: the role of familiarity in distinguishing definite and indefinite descriptions, how to understand the relationship between definite descriptions and complex demonstratives, and how to account for plural descriptions.
Key works The idea that a familiarity presupposition might help to distinguish definite from indefinite descriptions is generally attributed to Christophersen 1939.  This proposal was introduced into more contemporary linguistic discourse in Heim 1982.  For an account of the parallels and differences between definite descriptions and demonstratives, see Roberts 2002.  For attempts to account for plural descriptions, see Sharvy 1980 and Link 1983.
Introductions Ludlow 2008
Related categories

34 found
  1. A Reply to Szabó's “Descriptions and Uniqueness”.Abbott Barbara - 2003 - Philosophical Studies 113 (3):223 - 231.
    Szabó follows Heim in viewing familiarity, rather than uniqueness, as the essence of the definite article, but attempts to derive both familiarity and uniqueness implications pragmatically, assigning a single semantic interpretation to both the definite and indefinite articles. I argue that if there is no semantic distinction between the articles, then there is no way to derive these differences between them pragmatically.
  2. Definiteness and Identification in English.Barbara Abbott - manuscript
    Many characterizations of definiteness in natural language have been given. However a number of them converge on a single idea involving uniqueness of applicability of a property. This paper will attempt to do two things. One is to try to unify some of these current views of definiteness, seeing them as drawing out Gricean conversational implicatures of the uniqueness concept, and the other is to try a more articulated approach to dealing with some recalcitrant counterexamples. I will focus primarily, but (...)
  3. Issues in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Definite Descriptions in English.Barbara Abbott - manuscript
  4. Issues in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Definite Descriptions in English.Barbara Abbott - 2008 - In Nancy Hedberg & Jeanette Gundel (eds.), Reference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Oxford University Press. pp. 61-72.
  5. Definiteness and Indefiniteness.Barbara Abbott - 2004 - In Laurence R. Horn & Gregory Ward (eds.), Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell.
    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 (...)
  6. MacKay on Complementary Descriptions.Peter Alexander - 1958 - Mind 67 (267):379-381.
  7. Do Generic Descriptions Denote?John Bacon - 1973 - Mind 82 (327):331-347.
  8. Reciprocals Are Definites.Sigrid Beck - 2001 - Natural Language Semantics 9 (1):69-138.
    This paper proposes that elementary reciprocal sentences have four semantic readings: a strongly reciprocal interpretation, a weakly reciprocal interpretation, a situation-based weakly reciprocal reading, and a collective reading. Interpretational possibilities of reciprocal sentences that have been discussed in the literature are identified as one of these four. A compositional semantic analysis of all of these readings is provided in which the reciprocal expression is uniformly represented as 'the other ones among them' (recasting Heim, Lasnik and May 1991a, b). A reciprocal (...)
  9. Higher‐Level Plurals Versus Articulated Reference, and an Elaboration of Salva Veritate.Hanoch Ben-Yami - 2013 - Dialectica 67 (1):81-102.
    In recent literature on plurals the claim has often been made that the move from singular to plural expressions can be iterated, generating what are occasionally called higher-level plurals or superplurals, often correlated with superplural predicates. I argue that the idea that the singular-to-plural move can be iterated is questionable. I then show that the examples and arguments intended to establish that some expressions of natural language are in some sense higher-level plurals fail. Next, I argue that these and some (...)
  10. Collective Objects.U. Blau - 1981 - Theoretical Linguistics 8:101-130.
    The set-theoretic and individual-theoretic analyses of collections make the same mistake: their ontologies are far removed from language. Our basic notion, the collector, has a clear linguistic counterpart: the definite article. Our theory furnishes a theory of definite descriptions as a special case. We use 3-valued valued logic in order to come to grips with the existential presuppositions of the collections.
  11. Exceptional Wide Scope as Anaphora to Quantificational Dependencies.Adrian Brasoveanu & Donka F. Farkas - manuscript
    The paper proposes a novel account to the problem of exceptional scope (ES) of (in)definites, e.g. the widest and intermediate scope readings of the sentence Every student of mine read every poem that a famous Romanian poet wrote before World War II. We propose that ES readings are available when the sentence is interpreted as anaphoric to quantificational domains and quantificational dependencies introduced in the previous discourse. For example, the two every quantifiers and the indefinite elaborate on the sets of (...)
  12. Descriptions: An Annotated Bibliography.Berit Brogaard - 2010 - Oxford Annotated Bibliographies Online.
    Descriptions are phrases of the form ‘an F’, ‘the F’, ‘Fs’, ‘the Fs’ and NP's F (e.g. ‘John's mother’). They can be indefinite (e.g., ‘an F’ and ‘Fs’), definite (e.g. ‘the F’ and ‘the Fs’), singular (e.g., ‘an F’, ‘the F’) or plural (e.g., ‘the Fs’, ‘Fs’). In English plural indefinite descriptions lack an article and are for that reason also known as ‘bare plurals’. How to account for the semantics and pragmatics of descriptions has been one of the central (...)
  13. Sharvy's Theory of Definite Descriptions Revisited.Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2):160–180.
    The paper revisits Sharvy's theory of plural definite descriptions. An alternative account of plural definite descriptions building on the ideas of plural quantification and non-distributive plural predication is developed. Finally, the alternative is extrapolated to account for generic uses of definite descriptions.
  14. The but Not All: A Partitive Account of Plural Definite Descriptions.Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Mind and Language 22 (4):402–426.
    A number of authors in favor of a unitary account of singular descriptions have alleged that the unitary account can be extrapolated to account for plural definite descriptions. In this paper I take a closer look at this suggestion. I argue that while the unitary account is clearly onto something right, it is in the end empirically inadequate. At the end of the paper I offer a new partitive account of plural definite descriptions that avoids the problems with both the (...)
  15. Moogles, and Chocobos, and Kripke? Oh My! Some Basic Issues in Contemporary Philosophy of Language, Kupo!Richard Brown - manuscript
    [originally written for Final Fantasy and Philosophy but I was not happy with editorial decisions and decided to let it remain unpublished] Everyone knows that moogles are disgustingly cute. I know people who would kill to be able to have one in real life, but could there really be moogles? Say, for instance, that archeologists discovered a species of animal in some remote land that completely resembled the chocobo in every way. Would that count as discovering that the beloved Final (...)
  16. On Plural Reference and Elementary Set Theory.Helen Morris Cartwright - 1993 - Synthese 96 (2):201 - 254.
    The view that plural reference is reference to a set is examined in light of George Boolos's treatment of second-order quantification as plural quantification in English. I argue that monadic second-order logic does not, in Boolos's treatment, reflect the behavior of plural quantifiers under negation and claim that any sentence that properly translates a second-order formula, in accordance with his treatment, has a first-order formulation. Support for this turns on the use of certain partitive constructions to assign values to variables (...)
  17. The Articles: A Study of Their Theory and Use in English.Paul Christophersen - 1939 - Einar Munksgaard.
  18. 'I' as a Definite Description.Charles B. Daniels - 1968 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 46 (3):200-209.
  19. Descriptions, Negation, and Focus.Michael Glanzberg - 2009 - In Robert Stainton & Christopher Viger (eds.), Compositionality, Context, and Semantic Values: Essays in Honor of Ernie Lepore. Springer.
    One of the mainstays of the theory of definite descriptions since Russell (1905) has been their interaction with negation. In particular, Russellians, who advocate the view that definite descriptions are a kind of quantifier, point to these interactions as evidence in favor of the their view. The argument runs roughly as follows.
  20. Russell's Revenge: A Problem for Bivalent Fregean Theories of Descriptions.Jan Heylen - forthcoming - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 97 (2).
    Fregean theories of descriptions as terms have to deal with improper descriptions. To save bivalence various proposals have been made that involve assigning referents to improper descriptions. While bivalence is indeed saved, there is a price to be paid. Instantiations of the same general scheme, viz. the one and only individual that is F and G is G, are not only allowed but even required to have different truth values.
  21. Carnap's Theory of Descriptions and its Problems.Jan Heylen - 2010 - Studia Logica 94 (3):355-380.
    Carnap's theory of descriptions was restricted in two ways. First, the descriptive conditions had to be non-modal. Second, only primitive predicates or the identity predicate could be used to predicate something of the descriptum . The motivating reasons for these two restrictions that can be found in the literature will be critically discussed. Both restrictions can be relaxed, but Carnap's theory can still be blamed for not dealing adequately with improper descriptions.
  22. Proper Names and Definite Descriptions with Widest Possible Scope.James Hudson & Michael Tye - 1980 - Analysis 40 (1):63 - 64.
  23. Carnapian Modal and Epistemic Arithmetic.Heylen Jan - 2009 - In Carrara Massimiliano & Morato Vittorio (eds.), Language, Knowledge, and Metaphysics. Selected papers from the First SIFA Graduate Conference. College Publications. pp. 97-121.
    The subject of the first section is Carnapian modal logic. One of the things I will do there is to prove that certain description principles, viz. the ''self-predication principles'', i.e. the principles according to which a descriptive term satisfies its own descriptive condition, are theorems and that others are not. The second section will be devoted to Carnapian modal arithmetic. I will prove that, if the arithmetical theory contains the standard weak principle of induction, modal truth collapses to truth. Then (...)
  24. On Bishops and Donkeys.Nicky Kroll - 2008 - Natural Language Semantics 16 (4):359-372.
    The problem of indistinguishable participants is a well-known problem for D-type theories of donkey pronouns. Recently, Paul Elbourne has offered a D-type theory that purports to dissolve the problem of indistinguishable participants. I argue against Elboune’s solution.
  25. Identifying Knowledge and Communication.Eduardo Coutinho Lourenço de Lima - 2010 - Principia 10 (2):125-141.
    In this paper, I discuss how the principle of identifying knowledge which Strawson advances in ‘Singular Terms and Predication’ (1961), and in ‘Identifying Reference and Truth-Values’ (1964) turns out to constrain communication. The principle states that a speaker’s use of a referring expression should invoke identifying knowledge on the part of the hearer, if the hearer is to understand what the speaker is saying, and also that, in so referring, speakers are attentive to hearers’ epistemic states. In contrasting it with (...)
  26. Tropes, Intensional Relative Clauses, and the Notion of a Variable Object.Friederike Moltmann - 2012 - In Aloni Maria, Kimmelman Vadim, Weidman Sassoon Galit, Roloefson Floris, Schulz Katrin & Westera Matthjis (eds.), Proceedings of the 18th Amsterdam Colloquium 2011. Springer.
    NPs with intensional relative clauses such as 'the impact of the book John needs to write' pose a significant challenge for trope theory (the theory of particularized properties), since they seem to refer to tropes that lack an actual bearer. This paper proposes a novel semantic analysis of such NPs on the basis of the notion of a variable object. The analysis avoids a range of difficulties that an alternative analysis based on the notion of an individual concept would face.
  27. Definite Descriptions and Semantic Pluralism.Brendan Murday - 2014 - Philosophical Papers 43 (2):255-284.
    We pose two arguments for the view that sentences containing definite descriptions semantically express multiple propositions: a general proposition as Russell suggested, and a singular proposition featuring the individual who uniquely satisfies the description at the world-time of utterance. One argument mirrors David Kaplan's arguments that indexicals express singular propositions through a context-sensitive character. The second argument mirrors Kent Bach's and Stephen Neale's arguments for pluralist views about terms putatively triggering conventional implicatures, appositive, and nonrestrictive relative clauses. After presenting these (...)
  28. Review of Anne Bezuidenhout (Ed.), Marga Reimer (Ed.), Descriptions and Beyond[REVIEW]Gary Ostertag - 2005 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2005 (8).
  29. The Semantics and Pragmatics of Topic Phrases.Paul Portner & Katsuhiko Yabushita - 1998 - Linguistics and Philosophy 21 (2):117-157.
  30. Descriptions Which Have Grown Capital Letters.Brian Rabern - 2015 - Mind and Language 30 (3):292-319.
    Almost entirely ignored in the linguistic theorising on names and descriptions is a hybrid form of expression which, like definite descriptions, begin with 'the' but which, like proper names, are capitalised and seem to lack descriptive content. These are expressions such as the following, 'the Holy Roman Empire', 'the Mississippi River', or 'the Space Needle'. Such capitalised descriptions are ubiquitous in natural language, but to which linguistic categories do they belong? Are they simply proper names? Or are they definite descriptions (...)
  31. Reference Through Mental Files : Indexicals and Definite Descriptions.François Recanati - 2013 - In Carlo Penco & Filippo Domaneschi (eds.), What Is Said and What Is Not. Stanford. pp. 159-173.
    Accounts for referential communication (and especially communication by means of definite descriptions and indexicals) in the mental file framework.
  32. Demonstratives as Definites.Craige Roberts - 2002 - In K. van Deemter & R. Kibble (eds.), Information Sharing: Reference and Presupposition in Language Generation and Interpretation. CSLI Press. pp. 89-196.
  33. Against the Argument From Convention.Anders J. Schoubye - 2012 - Linguistics and Philosophy 35 (6):515-532.
    In recent years, a new argument in favor of Donnellan’s (Philos Rev 77: 281–304, 1966) semantic distinction between attributive and referential descriptions has been proposed by Michael Devitt and Marga Reimer. This argument is based on two empirical premises concerning regularity of use and processing ease. This paper is an attempt to demonstrate (a) that these empirical observations are dubious and fail to license the conclusion of the argument and (b) that if the argument were sound, it would severely overgenerate. (...)
  34. Definite Descriptions: What Frege Got Right and Russell Didn’T.Zsófia Zvolenszky - 1997 - Aporia Undergraduate Philosophy Journal:1-16.