Indefinite Topics

D. Cresti, 1995

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In this dissertation I investigate the phenomenon of what have come to be known as ‘specific’ indefinites.

The atypical scope- and discourse-related properties of this kind of noun phrases have led researches to posit a variety of recent analyses. I show that nothing special needs to be said about specific indefinites once we assume a pre-dynamic model of natrual language which takes as a starting point the proposals of Kamp (1981) and Heim (1982) that indefinites are not inherently quantificational.

One core assumption of this dissertation is that indefinites that are interpreted as specific (or that otherwise exhibit atypical scopal properties) are always topic marked in the sense of von Fintel (1994) (but see also Diesing 1991). The phenomenon of topic marking is quite independent of specific indefinites and is generally the cause of existence presuppositions associated with quantificational noun phrases – which are argues not to be intrinsically presuppositional.

The presuppositions associated with topic marking are shown to follow the same projection patterns as standard presuppositional expressions; thus the semantic and pragmatic properties of specific indefinites are expected to exhibit a parallel behavior with respect to, e.g., presuppositions of the kind generated by definite noun phrases. The model proposed thus subsumes the apparently puzzling scope taking options of indefinites under an independently available theory of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. No recourse to task-specific devices is assumed.

The model proposed assumes a maximally constrained theory of syntax. This it is compatible with theories which assume the clause-boundedness of quantifier raising, including those models which assume that there is no independently occuring quantifier raising operation.

Thesis Supervisor:      Irene Heim

Title:                           Professor, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy


Table of Contents

1          Introduction                                                                                                    8

            1          Are indefinites ambiguous?                                                                 8

            2          Formalities                                                                                          17

2          Wide Scope Indefinites                                                                                   24

            1          Fodor and Sag (1981)                                                                          24

            2          Indefinites are Variables                                                                      31

            3          The problem of weak truth conditions                                               42

                        3.1       Abusch’s proposal                                                                 46

                        3.2       Problems with Abusch’s proposal                                         52

                                    3.2.1    Indefinites and weak crossover                                   53

                                    3.2.2    Functional readings of indefinites                               56

                                    3.2.3    Specific indefinites and bound variables                     65

3          Can Wide Scope Indefinites be Interpreted In Situ?                                       68

            1          Hypothesis 0: Quantifier restrictions cannot be empty                     68

                        1.1       A Strawsonian Approach                                                       70

                        1.2       Viability of H0                                                                        75

                                    1.2.1    Quantificational determiners                                       76

                                    1.2.2    Modal and adverbial quantifiers                                 80

                                    1.2.3    Indefinites in Mon environments                               84

            2          Hypothesis 0.1: Association with Focus                                           89

                        2.1       Is negation Focus sensitive?                                                   93

                        2.2       Viability of H0.1                                                                      98

            3          Hypothesis 1: Wide scope indefinites are topics                               103

                        3.1       von Fintel’s topic anaphors                                                    104

                        3.2       New topics                                                                             108

                        3.3       Truth conditions under H1                                                      117

4          Presupposition Projection and Topicality                                                     134

            1          Introduction                                                                                        134

            2          Cancelability and other anti-presuppositional effects                                    139

            3          Presupposition projection: the data                                                   144

                        3.1       Object of a transitive verb                                                      145

                        3.2       Negation                                                                                  146

                        3.3       Assume, believe, convince                                                       150

                        3.4       Restriction of a quantifier                                                       157

                        3.5       Nuclear scope of a quantifier                                                  159

            4          A sketch of a possible model                                                             164

                        4.1       The slash operator                                                                  165

                        4.2       How topics fit in                                                                    173

                        4.3       Binding into presuppositions                                                 181

                                    4.3.1    Local presuppositions: If John has a child                 181

                                    4.3.2    The case of manage                                                    184

                        4.4       Binding into topics                                                                 188

                                    4.4.1    Local topics: Unless you own a donkey                      189

                                    4.4.2    Functional readings of indefinites                               195

                                    4.4.3    Every xi shares this topic                                            198

            5          Concluding remarks                                                                            201

References                                                                                                                   203