Journal of Semantics 31 (4):fft012 (2014)

This article discusses two puzzles regarding identity questions: (i) certain definites cannot occur in the post-copular position of identity questions; and (ii) the same definites are the only possible answers to identity questions with post-copular names. We demonstrate that the range of these definites crucially depends on interlocutors' shared assumptions about how entities in the physical surroundings are perceived and categorized. We propose that these definites are directly referential in the sense of Kaplan (1989a,b), and only contribute the referent itself to the semantic composition. To explain the asymmetry between perceptually grounded descriptions and proper names, we draw on Gupta's (1980) framework of relative identity. This analysis suggests that direct reference is not always determined lexically, but is—at least in part—a pragmatic phenomenon. More generally, this phenomenon shows that natural language is sensitive to the source of information in the common ground
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DOI 10.1093/jos/fft012
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