Interpreting plural predication: homogeneity and non-maximality

Linguistics and Philosophy 44 (5):1131-1178 (2020)
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Plural definite descriptions across many languages display two well-known properties. First, they can give rise to so-called non-maximal readings, in the sense that they ‘allow for exceptions’. Second, while they tend to have a quasi-universal quantificational force in affirmative sentences, they tend to be interpreted existentially in the scope of negation. Building on previous works, we offer a theory in which sentences containing plural definite expressions trigger a family of possible interpretations, and where general principles of language use account for their interpretation in various contexts and syntactic environments. Our theory solves a number of problems that these previous works encounter, and has broader empirical coverage in that it offers a precise analysis for sentences that display complex interactions between plural definites, quantifiers and bound variables, as well as for cases involving non-distributive predicates. The resulting proposal is briefly compared with an alternative proposal by Križ, which has similar coverage but is based on a very different architecture and sometimes makes subtly different predictions.



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Benjamin Spector
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

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