Deixis, demonstratives, and definite descriptions

Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 9 (4):285-297 (2020)
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Abstract

Definite articles and demonstratives share many features in common including a related etymology and a number of parallel communicative functions. The following paper is concerned with developing a novel proposal on how to distinguish the two types of expression. First, crosslinguistic evidence is presented to argue that demonstratives contain locational markers that are employed in deictic uses to force contrastive focus and accentuate an intended referent against a contextual background. Conversely, definite articles lack such markers. Demonstratives are thus more likely to force referential interpretations, whereas definite descriptions are more open to attributive ones. Second, an analysis of determiner phrases is provided to illustrate that certain syntactic projections capture deictic differences between the two expressions. Semantic correlates of the proposal are then considered before it is situated with respect to contemporary work distinguishing the two categories on the basis of a non‐redundancy condition (that the overt noun phrase complement of a demonstrative may not denote a singleton set), which I suggest is derivative on the presence of contrastive deictic markers in demonstratives.

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Thomas J Hughes
Beijing Institute of Technology

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References found in this work

On Denoting.Bertrand Russell - 1905 - Mind 14 (56):479-493.
Uber Sinn und Bedeutung.Gottlob Frege - 1892 - Zeitschrift für Philosophie Und Philosophische Kritik 100 (1):25-50.
On referring.Peter F. Strawson - 1950 - Mind 59 (235):320-344.
Indexicality and deixis.Geoffrey Nunberg - 1993 - Linguistics and Philosophy 16 (1):1--43.
Demonstratives as individual concepts.Paul Elbourne - 2008 - Linguistics and Philosophy 31 (4):409-466.

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