Monotonicity in opaque verbs

Linguistics and Philosophy 29 (6):715 - 761 (2006)

Abstract

The paper is about the interpretation of opaque verbs like “seek”, “owe”, and “resemble” which allow for unspecific readings of their (indefinite) objects. It is shown that the following two observations create a problem for semantic analysis: (a) The opaque position is upward monotone: “John seeks a unicorn” implies “John seeks an animal”, given that “unicorn” is more specific than “animal”. (b) Indefinite objects of opaque verbs allow for higher-order, or “underspecific”, readings: “Jones is looking for something Smith is looking for” can express that there is something unspecific that both Jones and Smith are looking for. Given (a) and (b), it would seem that the following inference is hard to escape, if the premisses are construed unspecifically and the conclusion is taken on its under- specific reading: Jones is looking for a sweater. Smith is looking for a pen. Smith is looking for something Jones is looking for.

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References found in this work

Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
Counterfactuals.David Kellogg Lewis - 1973 - Cambridge, MA, USA: Blackwell.
On Denoting.Bertrand Russell - 1905 - Mind 14 (56):479-493.

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