LINGUIST List 3.251

Mon 16 Mar 1992

Disc: Specificity

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  1. Paul Hopper, Re: 3.233 Queries: Specificity, French, Quasi-Natives, Font
  2. Logical Language Group, specificity - reply to M. Newman

Message 1: Re: 3.233 Queries: Specificity, French, Quasi-Natives, Font

Date: Tue, 10 Mar 1992 08:32:54 Re: 3.233 Queries: Specificity, French, Quasi-Natives, Font
From: Paul Hopper <ph1u+andrew.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.233 Queries: Specificity, French, Quasi-Natives, Font

Michael Newman's perceptive observation that "semantic" categories like
+/- specific, +/- referential and so on that are derived from imagined
sentences are impossible to apply to real live data opens up a whole
book on linguistic methodology and the nature of linguistic data,
doesn't it. One page in this book is Talmy Givon's paper "Logic vs.
pragmatics, with human language as the referee" (Journal of Pragmatics
6.1:1982), and the work Givon and his students & colleagues did in the
1980's on "topic continuity" (see T. Givon ed. 1983, _Topic Continuity
in Discourse_, in which questions of the relationship between
"referentiality" and grammar are discussed from a quantitative
perspective for a variety of languages.) There's much, much more, of
course.
- Paul Hopper
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Message 2: specificity - reply to M. Newman

Date: Sun, 15 Mar 92 00:28:48 -0specificity - reply to M. Newman
From: Logical Language Group <lojbabgrebyn.com>
Subject: specificity - reply to M. Newman

Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.bitnet>:
Re your posting on specificity. I'm not sure whether it helps, but all
of your example sentences get translated into Lojban using a 'feature'
orthogonal to the +/-specificity one, that does not apply to the "the
richest woman in town" example. That is the "feature" of massification.

Each of your numbered examples are expressed in Lojban using "mass
nouns" since Lojban can express any 'noun' as a mass noun. Analogizing
back to an understandable English example you can get the sample
sentence "John spilled [SOME] WATER from ITS basin", where I believe the
optional quantifier "some" may indicate specificity, but need not force
it. Without the quantifier, the mass noun seems clearly non-specific
(although the "its" clearly points back to the non-specific portion
being described). Yes, there is some specific water associated with any
given basin, but there is no indication in the sample sentence that a
specific basin is being referred to, hence the water itself is generic.
With the quantifier, the reference could still be non-specific, except
that it is selecting a non-specific "some" portion out of the mass of
water.

Mass nouns can exhibit either generic and specific properties in Lojban.
In English, however, we almost always flag the specific with "the" or a
quantifier like "some" and usually omit it with generic mass nouns. But
sometimes English treats non-mass nouns as masses, and the kind of
confusion of your sample sentences results. Sometimes, but not always,
the descriptor is omitted. In your examples (2) and (3), the word
"these" could be omitted, while it could be added in (1), with no
obvious change in meaning. (Perhaps it is being included as a kind of
agreement with the later possessive).

> (2) you know THESE MORAL COMMANDOS who want us to think THEIR way and
> want to change what we can hear and see and think in this country are
> dangerous. . .

Here the "commandos" are being massified. There are a set of (persons)
possibly describable as "moral commandos". Consider the whole set as a
mass. A portion, but not necessarily all of the mass, "want us to think
THEIR way". There is no statement being made about a portion of "moral
commandos" who might not "want us to think their way". Such a portion
might or might not exist. The generic mass is being restricted to the
degree necessary by the restriction of whether specific portions (i.e.
individuals) want us to think their way.

Returning to the water analogy, and repeating:

"John spilled [SOME] WATER from ITS basin"

Here "water" is being massified. There is a mass substance, described
as "water". Consider the entirety of water as a mass. A portion, not
necessarily all of the mass, was "spilled ... from ITS basin". There is
no statement being made about a [the] portion of "water" that might not
have been spilled, or might not even have been associated with a basin.
The generic mass of water is being restricted to the degree necessary, by
whether specific portions were associated with some basin and spilled
from it by John.

There is no necessity in the water example that the speaker have a
specific basin in mind. The basin is restricted by association with
some water that spilled from it (and with John who spilled it), and the
water is restricted by association with a basin spilled from (and with
John).
----
lojbab = Bob LeChevalier, President, The Logical Language Group, Inc.
 2904 Beau Lane, Fairfax VA 22031-1303 USA
 703-385-0273
 lojbabgrebyn.com
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