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Context Dependence and Procedural Meaning: The Semantics of Definites

Breheny, Richard; (1999) Context Dependence and Procedural Meaning: The Semantics of Definites. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis argues that there is a theoretically interesting connection between members of the intuitive category of context-dependent expressions, including "we", "tall", "local", "every man", "the woman", "it", "those donkeys" and so on. A treatment of the linguistic meaning of these expressions will be proposed based on the idea that their use raises issues for the audience about the proper understanding of the utterances in which they occur. The proposal will be developed in terms of a semantics for questions, which draws on the idea that to know the meaning of a question is to know what would count as an answer. It can be summarised along similar lines: to know the meaning of a context-dependent expression is to know what properties or relations (of the appropriate type) it could be used to express. The framework in which this idea will be developed can account for why the expressions that are given this issue-based treatment can also be given dependent, bound readings. The class of definite expressions, including descriptions and pronouns, is analysed in detail. A quantificational approach, where the determiner is existential, is assumed for all forms of definiteness. In all cases, the restrictor is interpreted by an atomic definite concept. The audience's grasp of the properties which definite concepts express is the result of inferential processes which take the linguistic meaning of a definite expression as input. These processes are constrained by pragmatic principles. The analysis of context-dependent expressions is extended to account for dependent interpretations. A treatment of donkey sentences that accounts for their variable quantificational force is shown to follow naturally from the analysis. A pragmatic account of infelicitous uses of definites is provided and shown to compare favourably with that provided by dynamic semantic theories. Also, a novel treatment of plural definites is provided which accounts for their variable quantificational force.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Context Dependence and Procedural Meaning: The Semantics of Definites
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10121041
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