Title

Unembedded Definite Descriptions and Relevance

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

11-1998

Journal

Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses

Issue

11

First Page

231

Last Page

239

Abstract

Definite descriptions (e.g. 'The king of France in 1997', 'The teacher of Aristotle') do not stand for particulars. Or so I will assume. The semantic alternative has seemed to be that descriptions only have meaning within sentences: i.e., that their semantic contribution is given syncategorimatically. This doesn't seem right, however, because descriptions can be used and understood outside the context of any sentence. Nor is this use simply a matter of "ellipsis." Since descriptions do not denote particulars, but seem to have a meaning in isolation, I propose that they be assigned generalized quantifiers as denotations — i.e. a kind of function, from sets/properties to propositions. I then defend the pragmatic plausibility of this proposal, using Relevance Theory. Specifically, I argue that, even taken as standing for generalized quantifiers, descriptions could still be used and understood in interpersonal communication.

Notes

Dr. Robert Stainton is currently a faculty member at The University of Western Ontario.