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<the, a>: (in)definiteness and implicature

Dr. Laurence Horn

Tuesday, November 02, 2010, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Yale University, Department of Linguistics

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This paper, reflecting joint work with Barbara Abbott, revisits some recent non-Russellian analyses by Szabó and Ludlow & Segal in which the distinction in meaning contributed by the and a(n) is relegated to conversational pragmatics, reflecting conditions of familiarity vs. novelty. While definite and indefinite descriptions may well coincide in logical form, we argue that there must be a conventional (encoded) distinction between them in that the former is marked for uniqueness (rather than givenness or familiarity) while the latter is unmarked for this feature. Following Hawkins (1991), we derive the non-uniqueness of indefinites as an upper-bounding Q-based implicature based on an empirically supported <the, a> scale. But we depart from Hawkins (and Russell) in positing uniqueness as conventionally implicated rather than asserted or entailed in definites. In addition to the absence of clear evidence that statements containing a definite description are taken to be false on the grounds that uniqueness/maximality is violated, objections to statements on the grounds that a definite description fails to apply uniquely will typically involve metalinguistic devices used to reject conventional implicatures rather than ordinary negation functioning as a falsity operator.

Dr. Laurence Horn