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Invited talk by Manfred Sailer (Frankfurt), Dec. 5, 5:30 pm

4. Dezember 2017; Tobias Kerll

All are cordially invited!

The meaning and marking of definite noun phrases

Manfred Sailer (Frankfurt) (joint work with Assif Am-David)


In this talk, I will discuss aspects of meaning and marking of definite noun phrases.

In the first part, I will argue that, semantically, definiteness is a combination of an existence presupposition and a conventional implicature of uniqueness. Even though uniqueness seems to be at the core of what definiteness is (Coppock & Beaver 2015), there are at least two different notions of uniqueness that are systematically used in the languages of the world (Schwarz 2009).

In the second part, I will look at the syntactic shape of semantically definite noun phrases, in particular at the presence or absence of definite articles. I will assume that a noun phrase is semantically definite because of lexical semantic/pragmatic properties of the words that it contains. Such words can be inherently definite nouns like "sun" or proper names, but also definite articles. While it would be sufficient to have one such definite word in a noun phrase, syntactic requirements of a language may allow for - or even require - the occurrence of a semantically redundant definite article. Using a system of semantic combinatorics that allows for redundant marking (Richter & Sailer 2004), such syntactic requirements can be expressed without any changes in the semantics of the lexical items.

An alternative to a redundancy-base approach would be a theory that assumes a semantically empty determiner in some cases (such as Ortmann 2014). I will try to provide further arguments in favor of a redundancy-based analysis.

The resulting analysis provides a typologically robust characterization of semantic definiteness and  a  cross-lingually constant semantic analysis of inherently definite nouns. It allocates differences among languages with respect to the marking of definiteness purely to the existence of particular lexical items and to syntactic requirements.