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On unique and non-unique reference and asymmetric quantification

Nirit Kadmon, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The view that definite noun phrases are systematically accompanied by uniqueness implications is defended in this dissertation against rivals and counterexamples, with emphasis on the precise understanding of the phenomenon and factors which have obscured its generality. It is argued that all definites are 'unique', in a sense defined within the Kamp/Heim framework on the basis of discourse representations containing implicated, accommodated and contextually supplied material. Definites are contrasted with indefinites, including indefinites with numeral determiners. In quantified sentences, a definite may be unique relative to another element. For example, the use of the definite pronoun in Every chess set comes with a spare pawn. It is taped to the top of the box implies that there is a unique spare pawn per chess set. It is argued that uniqueness depends on the configuration of quantifiers and their scope; roughly, a definite A is unique relative to an element B if it has narrow scope relative to B. A general theory of uniqueness is proposed, and applied to a variety of examples. Then the 'asymmetric' reading of quantified sentences is discussed; that is, for example, the reading of Most women who have a dog are happy which is false in the situation where out of ten women, one has 50 dogs and is happy, and the other nine have exactly one dog each and are miserable. The asymmetric reading is not captured by the unselective quantification found in the Kamp/Heim system. An analysis of this reading is proposed, which finds support in the behavior of definite NPs in 'donkey' sentences, and which derives a cluster of properties of the reading from the asymmetry inherent to scope relations. Thus both uniqueness and the asymmetric reading are seen to reflect scope relations. The combined understanding and analyses of these phenomena are shown to reveal and explain systematic patterns in the behavior of donkey sentences, and illuminate puzzling speakers' judgements concerning these sentences.

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Recommended Citation

Kadmon, Nirit, "On unique and non-unique reference and asymmetric quantification" (1987). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8805935.