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Noun Phrases: The nature of reference and ambiguity

Borg, Emma; (1998) Noun Phrases: The nature of reference and ambiguity. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to argue for a unified stance on noun phrase classification; whereby, given a common-sense syntactic category like demonstrative or description, if one member of the category belongs to a given semantic kind, then all do. The thesis begins by drawing a parallel between two debates which are not always brought together: the issue of whether all or only some definite descriptions are quantified noun phrases and whether all or only some complex demonstratives are referring terms. I suggest that we should prefer a common methodology for questions such as these, looking more generally at what features lead us to ascribe an expression any particular semantic analysis. I consider three options: intuited behaviour across contexts; syntactic categories; and syntactic properties which may cross-cut syntactic classes. The second option is then explored via an in-depth examination of complex demonstratives and is seen to be the most appealing. However, unification is open to two serious objections: first, that it fails to account properly for certain recalcitrant noun phrases in natural language; second, that it is in tension with a (substantial) conception of reference and what it is to be a referring term. I dismiss both these arguments: rejecting the first through a recognition of the kinds of features natural language speakers use in practice for assigning syntactic category, and through an adoption of the Gricean distinction between semantic and pragmatic meaning. I reject the second by showing that the syntax-independent conception of reference the argument depends on does not fit ordinary language users actual conception of reference; rather we should embrace a syntax-dependent conception, which lends credence to the mirroring of semantics in syntax. Thus I conclude there is no bar to our pursuit of unification.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Noun Phrases: The nature of reference and ambiguity
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Noun phrase classification
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10105108
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