This book introduces the most important problems of reference and considers the solutions that have been proposed to explain them. Reference is at the centre of debate among linguists and philosophers and, as Barbara Abbott shows, this has been the case for centuries. She begins by examining the basic issue of how far reference is a two place (words-world) or a three place (speakers-words-world) relation. She then discusses the main aspects of the field and the issues associated with them, including (...) those concerning proper names; direct reference and individual concepts; the difference between referential and quantificational descriptions; pronouns and indexicality; concepts like definiteness and strength; and noun phrases in discourse. Professor Abbott writes with exceptional verve and wit. She presupposes no technical knowledge or background and presents issues and analyses from first principles, illustrating them at every stage with well-chosen examples. Her book is addressed in the first place to advanced undergraduate and graduate students in linguistics and philosophy of language, but it will also appeal to students and practitioners in computational linguistics, cognitive psychology, and anthropology. All will welcome the clarity this guide brings to a subject that continues to challenge the leading thinkers of the age. (shrink)
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 (...) NPs by enumerating NP types. Westerståhl (1985), who is concerned only with determiners in the paper cited, gives a very short list: demonstrative NPs, possessive NPs, and definite descriptions. Prince (1992) lists proper names and personal pronouns, as well as NPs with the, a demonstrative, or a possessive NP as determiner. She notes, in addition, that “certain quantifiers (e.g. all, every) have been argued to be definite” (Prince 1992: 299). This list, with the quantifiers added, agrees with that given by Birner & Ward (1998, 114). Ariel (1988, 1990) adds null anaphoric NPs. (shrink)
Some presuppositions seem to be weaker than others in the sense that they can be more easily neutralized in some contexts. For example some factive verbs, most notably epistemic factives like know, be aware, and discover, are known to shed their factivity fairly easily in contexts such as are found in (1). (1) a. …if anyone discovers that the method is also wombat-proof, I’d really like to know! b. Mrs. London is not aware that there have ever been signs erected (...) to stop use of the route… c. Perhaps God knows that we will never reach the stars…. (The examples in (1) are all naturally occurring ones, discovered by David Beaver with the aid of Google; cf. Beaver 2002, exx. 32, 43, and 51, respectively.) On the other hand some other factives, e.g. regret, matter, and be surprised, do not exhibit the same type of behavior: (2) a. If any of the students regrets behaving badly, they’ll let us know. b. It doesn’t matter that the chimpanzees escaped. c. Was Bill surprised that spinach was included? Unlike the examples in (1), those in (2) could not be used appropriately in contexts where the speaker was not assuming that the complement clause was true. Our main concern will be trying to find the cause of this difference. However, before we get to that, we will look more closely at the concept “presupposition” itself, as well as its close neighbor in the linguistic literature, “conventional implicature” (section 2), and also at various ways of getting rid of presuppositions (section 3). In section 4 we will investigate two possible explanations for differences in presupposition triggering – the “lexical alternative” approach of Abusch (2002, 2005), and a suggestion of Ladusaw’s involving detachability of presuppositions. The final section contains concluding remarks. (shrink)
This paper presents problems for Stalnaker’s common ground theory of presupposition. Stalnaker (Linguist and Philos 25:701–721, 2002) proposes a 2-stage process of utterance interpretation: presupposed content is added to the common ground prior to acceptance/rejection of the utterance as a whole. But this revision makes presupposition difficult to distinguish from assertion. A more fundamental problem is that the common ground theory rests on a faulty theory of assertion—that the essence of assertion is to present the content of an utterance as (...) new information. Many examples are presented of utterances which are felicitous but not informative in this way. (shrink)
Partee (1973) discussed quotation from the perspective of the then relatively new theory of transformational grammar.2 As she pointed out, the phenomenon presents many curious puzzles. In some ways quotes seem quite separate from their surrounding text; they may be in a different dialect, as in her example in (1), (1) ‘I talk better English than the both of youse!’ shouted Charles, thereby convincing me that he didn’t. [Partee (1973):ex. 20] or even in a different language, as in (2): (2) (...) Louise said ‘Je voudrais un auto-da-f´e’, but I didn’t know what she meant. (shrink)
This paper addresses some data put forward by Geurts (1997) in support of his metalinguistic or quotation theory of proper names, according to which a name N means ‘the individual named N’. The data illustrate ten linguistic behaviours claimed to be shared by proper names and definite descriptions. I argue that in some cases the behaviours have a common explanation which is based on a property independent of Geurts' analysis, and that in the remaining cases the behaviours are not actually (...) shared. Thus these behaviours do not actually support the metalinguistic theory. (shrink)
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.
We will look at several theories of indicative conditionals grouped into three categories: those that base its semantics on its logical counterpart (the material conditional); intensional analyses, which bring in alternative possible worlds; and a third subgroup which denies that indicative conditionals express propositions at all. We will also look at some problems for each kind of approach.
Grice introduced generalized conversational implicatures with the following example: "Anyone who uses a sentence of the formX is meeting tz woman this evening would normally implicate that the person to be met was someone other than X’s wife, mother, sister, or perhaps even close platonic friend" (1975 : 37). Concerning this example, he suggested the following account: When someone, by using the form of expression an JQ implicates that the X does not belong to or is not otherwise closely connected (...) with some identifiable person, the implicature is present because the speaker has failed to be specific in a way in which he might have been expected to be specific. (Grice 1975: 38.) Grice went on to sketch an explanation as to why such an implicature should arise, involving the different ways in which we behave towards things that are closely related to.. (shrink)
The phrase "natural kind term" has come into the linguistic and philosophical literature in connection with well-known work of Kripke (1972) and Putnam (1970, 1975a). I use that phrase here in the sense it has acquired from those and subseqnent works on related topics. This is not the transparent sense of the phrase. That is, if I am right in what follows there are words for kinds of things existing in nature which are not natural kind terms in the current (...) sense - e.g. planet, woman, and weed. I use the term "nondescriptional", following Salmon (1981), to mean "lacking a Fregean sense", where a Fregean sense is taken to be a property or group of properties semantically associated with an expression which determines its denotation. I hope that the term "nondescriptional" will be clarified in subsequent discussion, but perhaps a few words about it and its opposite, "descriptional", would be useful here. These terms (as Salmon notes (p.15, n. 11)) should be taken as technical terms. The idea is that descriptional words, of which bachelor is the overwhelmingly favorite example, express a semantic content, or sense, which is what mediates their denotation. Entities fall in their denotation in virtue of possessing the property or properties expressed as their sense. (It is not necessary, however, that this sense be as easily paraphrasable with descriptive synonyms as it is typically held to be in the case of bachelor, or even that it be paraphrasable at all.) In the case of nondescriptional words there is no Fregean sense to mediate the link between word and object. Hence such terms are described by what Salmon, following Kaplan, calls "the theory of direct reference". What it is that does associate such terms with their denotations is another question which will be touched on briefly at the end. I have several aims in this paper. The first is to defend a conservative position on nondescriptionality. I will argue that relatively few natural language words have this property. My other aims are primarily clarificatory. Among the issues I would like to clarify are those connected with the determination of this property and flae explanation of why it exists, its relationship with other properties such as rigid designation and essentiality, and its significance for lexical semantics. The organization of the paper is as follows. The first section identifies the position taken here on the question of which expressions are nondescriptional and provides a general defense of it. The second section is a critical examination of criteria associated with nondescriptionality. In the third section provide further defense for the conservative position, and in the fourth section we turn to related issues in lexical semantics. (shrink)
Within the relevant semantics and pragmatics literature the terms “presupposition” and “conventional implicature” are used in a variety of different, but frequently overlapping, ways. The overlaps are perhaps not surprising, given that the two categories of conveyed meaning share the property of remaining constant in the scope of other operators—the property usefully characterize as projectivity. One of my purposes in this paper will be to try to clarify these different usages. In addition to that we will explore two additional properties (...) which are shared by some of these projective contents—strong contextual felicity , and neutralizability . The idea is to try to explain all three properties by taking into account information packaging. (shrink)
Like Spanish moss on a live oak tree, the scientific study of meaning in language has expanded in the last 100 years, and continues to expand steadily. In this essay I want to chart some central themes in that expansion, including their histories and their important figures. Our attention will be directed toward what is called 'formal semantics', which is the adaptation to natural language of analytical techniques from logic. The first, background, section of the paper will survey the changing (...) attitudes of linguists toward semantics into the last third of the century. The second and third sections will examine current formal approaches to meaning. In the final section I will summarize some of the common assumptions of the approaches examined in the middle sections of the paper, sketch a few alternatives, and make some daring predictions. (shrink)
Last year (2005) marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Russell’s classic ‘On denoting’. It should not cast any shadow on that great work to note that the problems it provided solutions to are still the subject of controversy. Two of those problems involved noun phrases (NPs) which fail to denote. Russell’s examples (1a) and (1b) (1) a. The king of France is bald. b. The king of France is not bald. are puzzling because they have the form of (...) simple contradictories, and yet we are not inclined to say either one is true. Example (2) (2) Pegasus does not exist. is even more problematic; the lack of denotation for Pegasus, which makes the sentence true, also seems to rob it of a meaningful constituent. Once the king of France is unpacked according to Russell’s analysis, (1b) is revealed to be ambiguous. It’s logical forms are given in (3). (3) a. ∃x[Kx ∧ ∀y[Ky ↔ y=x] ∧ ¬Bx] b. ¬∃x[Kx ∧ ∀y[Ky ↔ y=x] ∧ Bx] (3a) says that there is a unique (French) king who is not bald (obviously false), but (3b), the logical contradictory of (1a) says that it is not the case that there is a unique king who is bald (which is true). We can apply the analysis to sentence (2) once we recognize Pegasus as a concealed definite description, e.g. the winged horse of Greek mythology. (2) can then be unpacked as (4) (4) ¬∃x[Wx ∧ ∀y[Wy ↔ y=x]] which seems both meaningful and true, as required. Problems solved. Well, not quite. Strawson (1950) challenged the first solution above, arguing that neither (1a) nor (1b) could be used to assert the existence of a king of France. Rather, use of such sentences presupposes the existence of a king of France, and failing that existence, neither of (1a) or (1b) could be used to make either a true or a false statement – in Strawson’s words, “the question of whether it’s true or false simply doesn’t arise” (Strawson 1950, 330).1 In an extended series of essays, and one book, Jay Atlas (1977, 1978, 1979, 1989, 2004) has taken issue with the work of both Russell and Strawson.. (shrink)
This chapter reviews issues surrounding theories of reference. The simplest theory is the Fido-Fido theory – that reference is all that an NP has to contribute to the meaning of phrases and sentences in which it occurs. Two big problems for this theory are coreferential NPs that do not behave as though they were semantically equivalent and meaningful NPs without a referent. These problems are especially acute in sentences..
In the 1960’s, both Montague (e.g. 1970, 222) and Grice (1975, 24) famously declared that natural languages were not so different from the formal languages of logic as people had thought. Montague sought to comprehend the grammars of both within a single theory, and Grice sought to explain away apparent divergences as due to the fact that the former, but not the latter, were used for conversation. But, if we confine our concept of logic to first order predicate logic (or (...) FOPL) with identity (that is, omitting everything which is not required for the pursuit of mathematical truth), then there are of course many other aspects, in addition to its use in conversation, which distinguish natural language from logic. Conventional implicature, information structure (including presupposition), tense and time reference, and the expression of causation and inference are several of these, which combine as well with syntactic complexities which are unnecessary in first order predicate logic. In this paper I will argue that such distinguishing aspects should be more fully exploited to explain the differences between the material conditional of logic and the indicative conditional of one natural language (English). (shrink)
Abbott replies to each of Hauser's arguments. Problem solving by chimpanzees and evidence of recursion in the thought of a feral human being suggest that natural language is not necessary for productive thought. Communication would be trivial if the inner language were the outer language, but it is not. The decryption analogy Hauser uses is flawed, and it is not clear which way Occam's razor cuts.
This paper is about the difficulties involved in establishing criteria for definiteness. A number of possibilities are considered – traditional ones such as strength, uniqueness, and familiarity, as well as several which have been suggested in the wake of Montague’s analysis of NPs as generalized quantifiers. My tentative conclusion is that Russell’s uniqueness characteristic (suitably modified) holds up well against the others.
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 (...) not entirely, on definite descriptions in English. (shrink)
Donkey pronouns (e.g., it in Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it) are argued to have an interpretation more similar to a demonstrative phrase (e.g., . . . beats that donkey) than to any of the other alternatives generally considered (e.g., . . . the donkey(s) he owns, . . . a donkey he owns). Like the demonstrative phrase, the pronoun is not equivalent to Evans' E-type paraphrase, nor to either the weak or the strong reading sometimes claimed for (...) donkey sentences. A consequence is to narrow the range of formal analyses. (shrink)
One of the widely accepted and quite influential conclusions of modern Anglo-American philosophy is that there is no sharp distinction between analytic truths and statements that are true only [by] virtue of the facts; what had been called analytic truths in earlier work, it is alleged, are simply expressions of deeply held belief. This conclusion seems quite erroneous. There is no fact about the world that I could discover that would convince me that you persuaded John to go to college (...) even though he never intended or decided to go to college; nor is there any fact of experience even relevant to the judgment that you failed to persuade him if he never intended or decided to go to college. The relation between persuade] and intend] or decide] is one of conceptual structure, independent of experience--though experience is necessary to determine which labels a particular language uses for the concepts that enter into such relations. The philosophical debate over these matters has been misleading because it has focused on very simple examples, examples involving words that lack the relational structure of such terms as chase and persuade. Thus there is much debate over whether the statement "cats are animals" is a truth of meaning or of fact (if we discovered that what we call cats are really robots controlled by Martians, would the sentence "Cats are animals" now be considered false, or would we conclude that what we have called cats are not really cats?). In such cases a decision is not easy to reach, but in others it seems quite straightforward. (shrink)
expression that indicates hearer-familiarity conversationally implicates that the referent is in fact nonfamiliar to the hearer” (KW 177, emphasis in original, footnote added). The purpose of this note is two-fold: first, to look more closely at the proposed implicature; and second, to clarify its relation to a different implicature – a scalar implicature of nonuniqueness resulting from use of the indefinite rather than the definite article, which was proposed by Hawkins (1991). In the first section below we distinguish explicit from (...) implicit indications of familiarity. In §2 we look specifically at definite NPs from this perspective. In §3 we consider KW’s evidence for the familiarity implicature, and in §4 we argue that the existence of such an implicature does not cast doubt on the existence of Hawkins’ nonuniqueness implicature. The final section contains some concluding remarks. We should make clear that we may ultimately have little or no disagreement with KW on the issues here. (We have had some indication from one of the authors that that is the case.) Rather, our main purpose is clarificatory. Most importantly, we fear that a reader of KW may come away with the conclusion that their nonfamiliarity implicature in some way supplants or supersedes the Hawkins implicature, and we would like to ward off any such conclusion. (shrink)
This would have been a better book if Sampson had argued his main point, the usefulness of the Simonian principle as an explanation of the evolution, structure, and acquisition of language, on its own merits, instead of making it subsidiary to his attack on ‘limited-minders’ (e.g., Noam Chomsky). The energy he has spent on the attack he might then have been willing and able to employ in developing his argument at reasonable length and detail. He might then have found that (...) argument faulty, or even wrong. Underdeveloped as it is, however, his point about the Simonian principle does seem to have thepossibility of some significance in understanding the empirical issues of this book (and the dichotomy of ‘limited’ and ‘creative’ minds is certainly not one of these).What Sampson has done inMaking Sense has the appearance of science, and theoretical linguistics, and therefore it is somewhat puzzling to find the conclusions that the human mind cannot be scientifically studied (p. 10), and that theoretical linguistics is a “mirage” (p. 210). His statement that It may still seem worthwhile to some to work out the exact implications for present-day linguistic structure of the fact that languages are evolved systems, but I cannot see that there is much glamour or, indeed, much substance in this task (p. 210) would surely be surprising to a geneticist or ethologist. We hope his apparent misunderstanding on this point will not lead him to give up his profession, in which he seems willing and able to make a significant contribution.What in particular is required is a clear indication of how the Simonian principle imposes itself in the ontogenesis of language. Consider Chomsky's example of the rule for forming questions in English. For sentence (1) below, children able to deal with such examples would give (2) but not (3) as the corresponding question (Chomsky, 1975, p. 31).The man who is tall is in the room.Is the man who is tall in the room?*Is the man who tall is in the room?Now compare Sampson's evolutionary explanation for the structure-dependence of rules which is illustrated in (1)-(3): “once a behavior-pattern has become thoroughly established, it will tend to be treated as a fixed given when used as a constituent of a more complex, later-learned behavior-pattern” (p. 183). In order for this to account for Chomsky's example it would have to be the case that children learn relative clauses before they learn questions, which simply isn't true.In conclusion, we wish not to seem unaware of the problems with the position Sampson is attacking, or unaware of the sometimes dogmatic way it too has been presented. Chomsky's hypothesis of innate linguistic ideas seems, fundamentally, to derive from the claimed rapidity and uniformity of language acquisition in the face of limited and degenerate data. Chomsky appears to have been unwilling to argue these points directly or to show their relation to others, for which he has argued, for example, the implausibility of some abstract constraint's having been learned (cf. 1971, pp. 22–44; 1975, pp. 30–33; 1980, pp. 35–52). And almost from his first invoking of rationalism in support of his linguistic method, Chomsky has himself resorted to an unnecessarily polemical attack on empiricism (cf. 1965, p. 58, n. 33). The innateness issue is just not clear or simple enough to justify so much animus, or even conviction. (shrink)