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ReferenceInterdisciplinary Perspectives$
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Jeanette Gundel and Nancy Hedberg

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195331639

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195331639.001.0001

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Issues in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Definite Descriptions in English

Issues in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Definite Descriptions in English

Chapter:
(p.61) 3 Issues in the Semantics and Pragmatics of Definite Descriptions in English
Source:
Reference
Author(s):

Barbara Abbott

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195331639.003.0003

This chapter defends an analysis of definite descriptions according to which they express a presupposition of existence and a conventional implicature of uniqueness. It replies to analyses offered by Szabó (2000) and Ludlow & Segal (2004), according to which definite descriptions semantically encode familiarity and give rise to a conversational implicature of uniqueness. Evidence is provided that the familiarity implicature is cancelable and calculable, unlike the (conventional) implicature of uniqueness, and is thus conversational. Descriptions with stressed the either contrast uniqueness with non-uniqueness or express a hyperbolic extension of uniqueness such as importance or prominence. Two counterarguments of Szabó and Ludlow and Segal, involving kinds of determiner meanings in languages of the world and the definiteness effect in existential sentences, are briefly replied to.

Keywords:   definite descriptions, familiarity, uniqueness, conversational implicature, conventional implicature, stressed the, definiteness effect, Szabó, Ludlow, Segal

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