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Summary Indefinite descriptions like "a G" have received somewhat less attention than their definite cousins.  Traditionally, these were taken to contribute a restricted existential claim (restricted by the overt descriptive material) to the the semantic content expressed by the utterance.  More recently, however, many have noted that indefinite descriptions allow for a "specific" reading—that is, a reading on which they are used to talk about specific objects.  This raises a question of semantic import parallel to that of how to account for "referential uses" of definite descriptions.  Other outstanding questions regarding indefinite descriptions include how to account for their behavior in intensional contexts and whether what distinguishes them from definites is ultimately a matter of semantics or pragmatics.
Key works Russell 1905 provided the outline of what has become the standard theory of indefinites in the course of his discussion of definite descriptions.  This analysis treated indefinites as having bare existential import.  Chastain 1975 argued that this analysis could not properly account for specific readings of indefinites and, in particular, the role they play in grounding anaphoric chains.  This sort of argument is expanded in Donnellan 1979.  More recently, Edelberg 1986 has raised a number of difficult puzzles regarding how to account for indefinites in intensional contexts and Szabó 2000 has proposed a unified semantic analysis of both definite and indefinite descriptions.
Introductions Ludlow 2008
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  1. Definite and Indefinite According to Muslim Philosophers.Dr Gh Dinani - unknown - Kheradnameh Sadra Quarterly 5.
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  2. Termos Singulares Indefinidos: Frege, Russell e a tradição matemática.Daniel Durante Pereira Alves - 2016 - Saberes: Filosofia E Educação (Filosofia Lógica e Metafísica An):33-53.
    É bem conhecida a divergência entre as posições de Gottlob Frege e Bertrand Russell com relação ao tratamento semântico dado a sentenças contendo termos singulares indefinidos, ou seja, termos singulares sem referência ou com referência ambígua, tais como ‘Papai Noel’ ou ‘o atual rei da França’ ou ‘1/0 ’ ou ‘√4’ ou ‘o autor de Principia Mathematica’. Para Frege, as sentenças da linguagem natural que contêm termos indefinidos não formam declarações e portanto não são nem verdadeiras nem falsas. Já para (...)
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  3. Definiteness and Determinacy.Elizabeth Coppock & David Beaver - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (5):377-435.
    This paper distinguishes between definiteness and determinacy. Definiteness is seen as a morphological category which, in English, marks a uniqueness presupposition, while determinacy consists in denoting an individual. Definite descriptions are argued to be fundamentally predicative, presupposing uniqueness but not existence, and to acquire existential import through general type-shifting operations that apply not only to definites, but also indefinites and possessives. Through these shifts, argumental definite descriptions may become either determinate or indeterminate. The latter option is observed in examples like (...)
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  4. Why Indefinites Can Escape Scope Islands.Edgar Onea - 2015 - Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (3):237-267.
    One of the big questions about indefinites is why they can escape scope islands. In the recent approach of Brasoveanu and Farkas :1–55, 2011) scopal relations with syntactically dominating quantifiers are hard wired into the semantic definition of the existential quantifier, which immediately explains why the semantic scope of indefinites may exceed their syntactic scope. In this paper, I argue for the revival of an alternative approach which places the explanatory burden on the idea that indefinites are essentially referential expressions, (...)
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  5. Indefinites in Comparatives.Maria Aloni & Floris Roelofsen - 2014 - Natural Language Semantics 22 (2):145-167.
    The goal of this paper is to explain the meaning and distribution of indefinites in comparatives, focusing on English some and any and German irgend-indefinites. We consider three competing theories of comparatives in combination with an alternative semantics of some and any, and a novel account of stressed irgend-indefinites. One of the resulting accounts, based on Heim’s analysis of comparatives, predicts all the relevant differences in quantificational force, and explains why free choice indefinites are licensed in comparatives.
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  6. Indefinites and Intentional Identity.Samuel Cumming - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 168 (2):371-395.
    This paper investigates the truth conditions of sentences containing indefinite noun phrases, focusing on occurrences in attitude reports, and, in particular, a puzzle case due to Walter Edelberg. It is argued that indefinites semantically contribute the (thought-)object they denote, in a manner analogous to attributive definite descriptions. While there is an existential reading of attitude reports containing indefinites, it is argued that the existential quantifier is contributed by the de re interpretation of the indefinite (as the de re reading adds (...)
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  7. The Interpretation of Indefinites in Future Tensed Sentences. A Novel Argument for the Modality of Will?Fabio Del Prete - 2014 - In Mikhail Kissine, Philippe de Brabanter & Saghie Sharifzadeh (eds.), Oxford Studies of Time in Language and Thought.
    The chapter considers two semantic issues concerning will-sentences: Stalnaker’s Asymmetry and modal subordination in Karttunen-type discourses. The former points to a distinction between will and modal verbs, seeming to show that will does not license non-specific indefinites. The latter, conversely, suggests that will-sentences involve some kind of modality. To account for the data, the chapter proposes that will is semantically a tense, hence it doesn’t contribute a quantifier over modal alternatives; a modal feature, however, is introduced in the interpretation of (...)
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  8. Response.John Hawthorne & David Manley - 2014 - Mind and Language 29 (4):499-510.
    We are very grateful to our critics for their kind words and thoughtful engagementwith The Reference Book (hereafter TRB), and also to the editors of Mind & Language for the opportunity to respond. We’ll start our reply by sketching the book’s positive thesis about specific noun phrases and names. In §2 we’ll relate the traditional semantic category we call ‘reference’ to semantic taxonomies given in terms of mechanisms of denotation. In §3, we’ll turn to acquaintance constraints on reference and singular (...)
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  9. Definite Descriptions.Paul Elbourne - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    Paul Elbourne defends the Fregean view that definite descriptions ('the table', 'the King of France') refer to individuals, and offers a new and radical account of the semantics of pronouns. He draws on a wide range of work, from Frege, Peano, and Russell to the latest findings in linguistics, philosophy of language, and psycholinguistics.
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  10. Epsilon-Invariant Substitutions and Indefinite Descriptions.Z. Molnar - 2013 - Logic Journal of the IGPL 21 (5):812-829.
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  11. The Reference Book.John Hawthorne & David Manley - 2012 - Oxford University Press.
    This book critically examines some widespread views about the semantic phenomenon of reference and the cognitive phenomenon of singular thought. It begins with a defense of the view that neither is tied to a special relation of causal or epistemic acquaintance. It then challenges the alleged semantic rift between definite and indefinite descriptions on the one hand, and names and demonstratives on the other—a division that has been motivated in part by appeals to considerations of acquaintance. Drawing on recent work (...)
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  12. How Indefinites Choose Their Scope.Adrian Brasoveanu & Donka F. Farkas - 2011 - Linguistics and Philosophy 34 (1):1-55.
    The paper proposes a novel solution to the problem of scope posed by natural language indefinites that captures both the difference in scopal freedom between indefinites and bona fide quantifiers and the syntactic sensitivity that the scope of indefinites does nevertheless exhibit. Following the main insight of choice functional approaches, we connect the special scopal properties of indefinites to the fact that their semantics can be stated in terms of choosing a suitable witness. This is in contrast to bona fide (...)
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  13. Ambiguous Articles: An Essay On The Theory Of Descriptions.Francesco Pupa - 2008 - Dissertation, The Graduate Center, CUNY
    What, from a semantic perspective, is the difference between singular indefinite and definite descriptions? Just over a century ago, Russell provided what has become the standard philosophical response. Descriptions are quantifier phrases, not referring expressions. As such, they differ with respect to the quantities they denote. Indefinite descriptions denote existential quantities; definite descriptions denote uniquely existential quantities. Now around the 1930s and 1940s, some linguists, working independently of philosophers, developed a radically different response. Descriptions, linguists such as Jespersen held, were (...)
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  14. Sharvy's Theory of Definite Descriptions Revisited.Berit Brogaard - 2007 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2):160–180.
    The paper revisits Sharvy's theory of plural definite descriptions. An alternative account of plural definite descriptions building on the ideas of plural quantification and non-distributive plural predication is developed. Finally, the alternative is extrapolated to account for generic uses of definite descriptions.
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  15. Incomplete Descriptions, Incomplete Quantified Expressions (Part of the Dissertation Portfolio Modality, Names and Descriptions).Zsófia Zvolenszky - 2007 - Dissertation, New York University
    This paper offers a unified, quantificational treatment of incomplete descriptions like ‘the table’. An incomplete quantified expression like ‘every bottle’ (as in “Every bottle is empty”) can feature in true utterances despite the fact that the world contains nonempty bottles. Positing a contextual restriction on the bottles being talked about is a straightforward solution. It is argued that the same strategy can be extended to incomplete definite descriptions across the board. ncorporating the contextual restrictions into semantics involves meeting a complex (...)
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  16. Review of Reimer & Bezuidenhout (2004): Descriptions and Beyond. [REVIEW]John-Michael Kuczynski - 2006 - Pragmatics and Cognition 14 (1):196-204.
    In order to understand a sentence, one must know the relevant semantic rules. Those rules are not learned in a vacuum; they are given to one through one's senses. As a result, knowledge of semantic rules sometimes comes bundled with semantically irrelevant, but cognitively non-innocuous, knowledge of the circumstances in which those rules were learned. Thus, one must work through non-semantic information in order to know what is literally meant by a given sentence-token. A consequence is that one's knowledge of (...)
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  17. Definiteness and Indefiniteness.Barbara Abbott - 2004 - In Laurence R. Horn & Gregory Ward (eds.), Handbook of Pragmatics. Blackwell.
    The prototypes of definiteness and indefiniteness in English are the definite article the and the indefinite article a/an, and singular noun phrases (NPs)1 determined by them. That being the case it is not to be predicted that the concepts, whatever their content, will extend satisfactorily to other determiners or NP types. However it has become standard to extend these notions. Of the two categories definites have received rather more attention, and more than one researcher has characterized the category of definite (...)
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  18. On a Unitary Semantical Analysis for Definite and Indefinite Descriptions.Peter Ludlow & Gabriel Segal - 2004 - In Marga Reimer & Anne Bezuidenhout (eds.), Descriptions and Beyond. Oxford University Press. pp. 420-437.
  19. A Reply to Szabó’s “Descriptions and Uniqueness”.Barbara Abbott - 2003 - Philosophical Studies 113 (3):223 - 231.
    Szabó follows Heim in viewing familiarity, rather than uniqueness, as the essence of the definite article, but attempts to derive both familiarity and uniqueness implications pragmatically, assigning a single semantic interpretation to both the definite and indefinite articles. I argue that if there is no semantic distinction between the articles, then there is no way to derive these differences between them pragmatically.
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  20. Meaning and Use of Indefinite Expressions.Dekker Paul - 2002 - Journal of Logic, Language and Information 11 (2):141-194.
    Sentences containing pronouns and indefinite noun phrases can be said toexpress open propositions, propositions which display gaps to be filled.This paper addresses the question what is the linguistic content ofthese expressions, what information they can be said to provide to ahearer, and in what sense the information of a speaker can be said tosupport their utterance. We present and motivate first order notions ofcontent, update and support. The three notions are each defined in acompositional fashion and brought together within a (...)
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  21. Indexicals and Descriptions.Fernando Garcia-Murga - 1995 - Sorites 2:46-56.
    Reference is a common feature to indexicals, definite descriptions and, at least some uses of indefinite descriptions. A referential expression triggers a search for a referent, which ranges over the linguistic context, physical environment or encyclopedic knowledge. I argue for a unified theory of reference within which indexicals and definite descriptions refer to salient objects while indefinite descriptions refer to non salient objects. The descriptive content attached to each expression provides information making it possible for the addressee to find an (...)
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  22. Intentional Identity and the Attitudes.Walter Edelberg - 1992 - Linguistics and Philosophy 15 (6):561 - 596.
  23. Indefinite Descriptions: In Defense of Russell. [REVIEW]Peter Ludlow & Stephen Neale - 1991 - Linguistics and Philosophy 14 (2):171 - 202.
  24. Are Indefinite Descriptions Ambiguous?Jeffrey C. King - 1988 - Philosophical Studies 53 (3):417 - 440.
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  25. A New Puzzle About Intentional Identity.Walter Edelberg - 1986 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 15 (1):1 - 25.
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  26. Names and Indefinite Descriptions in Ontological Arguments.Jordan Howard Sobel - 1983 - Dialogue 22 (2):195-202.
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  27. A Predicate Logic Based on Indefinite Description and Two Notions of Identity.Robert A. Alps & Robert C. Neveln - 1981 - Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 22 (3):251-263.
  28. Definiteness and Indefiniteness: A Study in Reference and Grammaticality Prediction.John A. Hawkins - 1980 - Linguistics and Philosophy 3 (3):419-427.
  29. "Definiteness and Indefiniteness: A Study in Reference and Grammaticality Prediction" by John A. Hawkins. [REVIEW]Martin Harris - 1979 - Linguistics and Philosophy 3:419.
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  30. Free Semantics for Indefinite Descriptions.Ermanno Bencivenga - 1978 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 7 (1):389 - 405.
  31. On Definite and Indefinite Descriptions.George Wilson - 1978 - Philosophical Review 87 (1):48-76.
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  32. Reference and Context.Charles Chastain - 1975 - Dissertation, Princeton University
  33. A Theory of Indefinite Descriptions with an Application to Probability.Ian Hacking - 1968 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 46 (2):98 – 111.
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  34. Epistemic Indefinites Cross-Linguistically.Maria Aloni - unknown
    (1) Somebody arrived late. (Guess who?/Namely Mary) a. Conventional meaning: Somebody arrived late b. Ignorance implicature: The speaker doesn’t know who..
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  35. Specificity and Referentiality.Barbara Abbott - manuscript
  36. The Difference Between Definite and Indefinite Descriptions.Barbara Abbott - manuscript
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  37. Nonfamiliarity and Indefinite Descriptions.Barbara Abbott & Laurence R. Hom - unknown
    Grice introduced generalized conversational implicatures with the following example: "Anyone who uses a sentence of the formX is meeting tz woman this evening would normally implicate that the person to be met was someone other than X’s wife, mother, sister, or perhaps even close platonic friend" (1975 : 37). Concerning this example, he suggested the following account: When someone, by using the form of expression an JQ implicates that the X does not belong to or is not otherwise closely connected (...)
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