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Title: A Semantics for the English Existential Construction
Written By: Louise E. McNally

The philosopher P.H. Strawson observed that there are two ways to characterize the semantics of existence statements: as existentially quantified propositions involving particular individuals, or as subject-predicate propositions in which the subject is a property, or description of an individual, the predicate affirming the instantiation of this property or description. This work presents a new semantics for English existential-there sentences which, unlike most previous analyses of the construction, advocates the latter of these two characterizations of existence statements. The interpretation for the construction is developed in both a property-theoretic semantics and a version of File Change Semantics, and is accompanied by a complete syntactic analysis. Perhaps the most significant consequence of the proposal is that the well-known restriction on the sorts of noun phrases that can appear in existential sentences (the so-called definiteness effect) cannot be treated as a unified phenomenon; rather, it must result from a combination of semantic and pragmatic factors. This nonunified account is argued to be more successful than previous treatments at handling certain problematic data, at capturing similarities between existential and copular sentences, and at predicting cross-linguistic variation in the definiteness effect.

Publication Year: 1997
Publisher: Garland Publishers
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Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): English
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Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0815325576
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 240
Prices: $62