Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Studies in the semantics of generic noun phrases

Karina Jo Wilkinson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Generic noun phrases are noun phrases that have been said to pick out a class of individuals or a species. Syntactically, they can be definite or indefinite, singular or plural. My dissertation is concerned with the representation of generic NPs. One topic I discuss is the semantics of bare plurals. I argue, contra Carlson (1977), that bare plurals are ambiguous. The indefinite interpretation can be accounted for by a Heim (1982)/Kamp (1981) treatment of indefinite NPs as variables that receive their quantificational force from other quantifiers in the sentence. If there is no adverb of quantification or other quantifier that can bind the indefinite, it gets existential force. I also propose that there is a sentential generic operator, similar to the adverbs usually and generally that binds indefinites in its scope, and bare plurals may be bound by such an operator. This accounts for the generic interpretation of a bare plural with an individual-level predicate. A number of issues are raised by such a theory, for example, the treatment of aspect, anaphoric processes and the difference between definite and indefinite generic noun phrases. I also give an analysis of NPs that contain common nouns such as kind, sort, and type. Such NPs act according to the established tests of definiteness as if they were indefinite even when they contain a definite determiner. I show that the indefinite behavior of 'kind' NPs is a result of a structural ambiguity in the NP. NPs containing kind, unlike kind-denoting bare plurals, may denote plural (sets of) kinds. Link (1983) has shown that plural entities can be part of the domain of individuals, if the domain is given the structure of a lattice. I attempt to unify such a theory of plurals with a theory of generic noun phrases.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Wilkinson, Karina Jo, "Studies in the semantics of generic noun phrases" (1991). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9120954.