Comparing the familiarity theory with the quantifier theory

In Section 6, I showed how a cognitive theory of linguistics could capture the determiner-as-quantifier analysis. Here, I want to argue for the different merits of the analysis presented in 6, and the alternative familiarity analysis presented in 4. There are three case studies where it has been claimed that the quantifier treatment of definite descriptions captures their grammatical behaviour better than the familiarity theory.

Case study 1: Scope effects

In this case study, we look at how definite descriptions behave with respect to scope effects. We find that they behave like quantifiers in brief that definite descriptions can have narrow scope interpretations as well as wide scope interpretations. The main arguments are presented in Neale (1990: 118-164), although there have been rejoinders to Neale's claims, such as Elbourne (2010). Neale's arguments are long, detailed, and engaged with a long history so I only sketch here the lineaments of a few of his points.

First, Neale points out that in a simple way definite descriptions do not behave like a(n) with respect to scope alternations. A sentence such as (15) will always be interpreted as if the woman who was wearing Ray-Bans took wide interpretive scope (i.e. as if it identified a single individual with whom each man dances).

(15) Every man danced with the woman who was wearing Ray-Bans.

In this respect, the behaves quite differently from a(n). However, Neale shows that the does, in fact, enter into scope interactions which argue in favour of its being a quantifier, as in each man danced with the woman who was sitting next to him. For example, in a sentence such as (16a), the default interpretation is that each girl has a different mother from the other girls in the set; likewise, in (16b), every man has his own wife. In these cases, the definite expression cannot take wide scope.

(16) a. The mother of each girl waved to her.

[each y: girl y] ([the x: x mother-of y] (x waved to y)) I.e. there is a different mother for each girl. b. Every man respects the woman he marries.

[every x man x] ([the y: womany & x marries y] (x respects y)) I.e. there is a different wife for every man.

Neale argues through a range of example types and different contexts, including modal contexts; I will not take all of them, but I will present one further argument from the interaction of definite descriptions and modal contexts (Neale 1990: 121).

(17) The first person in space might have been Alan Shepard. This example has the two interpretations in (18) and (19).

(18) possibly [the x: first-person-into-space x] (x = Alan Shepard)

(19) [the x: first-person-into-space x] possibly (x = Alan Shepard)

The interpretation in (18) is true: there is some counterfactual state of affairs in which Alan Shepard was the first person in space; however the other interpretation is false because it asserts that there is some counterfactual state of affairs in which Yuri Gagarin is in fact Alan Shepard.

We can set truth conditions aside, or reduce them to a handy way of establishing that the two interpretations actually mean different things. Irrespective of how we assign meaning, we can agree that scope interactions are a linguistic phenomenon, and that they therefore need to be accounted for including in a cognitive theory. Once we agree that, we are in the business of arguing about the as a proportional quantifier like other proportional quantifiers, given an appropriate context, it interacts in scopal phenomena. It is incumbent on the person who asserts that the is not a quantifier to explain these scope phenomena by some other means.

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