Unembedded definite descriptions and relevance


  • Robert Stainton




Teoría de la relevancia, Lógica proposicional, Forma lógica, Descripción definida, Pragmática


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.


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How to Cite

Stainton, Robert. 1998. “Unembedded Definite Descriptions and Relevance”. Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina De Estudios Ingleses, no. 11 (November):231-39. https://doi.org/10.14198/raei.1998.11.17.