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Review of  Situations and Individuals

Reviewer: Emar Maier
Book Title: Situations and Individuals
Book Author: Paul D. Elbourne
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Issue Number: 17.3393

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AUTHOR: Elbourne, Paul D.
TITLE: Situations and Individuals
SERIES: Current Studies in Linguistics
YEAR: 2006

REVIEWER: Emar Maier, Department of Philosophy, University of Amsterdam and
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

This book provides a unified analysis of third person pronouns, definite
descriptions and proper names, in effect treating them all as descriptions.
The bulk of the book is concerned with the analysis of pronouns as definite
descriptions, which takes its cue from the analysis of so-called donkey
pronouns as abbreviated descriptions:

(1) Every man who owns a donkey, beats it

This 'it' is called a donkey (or E/D-type) pronoun because it is
intuitively bound but not c-commanded by 'a donkey'. The position defended
by Elbourne (henceforth, E) is that this 'it' means something like 'the
donkey', which, with the help of a finegrained situation semantics, picks
out exactly those donkeys made available by the quantifier's restrictor. He
goes on to show that this semantics extends to all the individual denoting


Chapter 1 (pp.1-40) addresses the problem posed by donkey sentences like
(1), viz. binding without c-command. The literature provides three
solutions: the D-type approach sketched above, dynamic semantics, and
variable-free semantics. A prima facie problem with the first is the
uniqueness presupposition of definite descriptions, i.e. does (1) really
imply that each man only has one donkey? Heim's (1990) solution uses
Kratzer's situation semantics: every minimal situation s in which a man
owns a donkey can be extended to a minimal situation s'>s where the unique
man beats the unique donkey. This makes sense because the minimal
situations involved really do contain only one donkey. Three serious
problems for the D-type analysis remain:

- Indistinguishable Participants:

(2) If a bishop meets a bishop he blesses him

D-type analysis: for every minimal s of a bishop meeting a bishop, there is
a minimal s'>s where the bishop blesses the bishop. This s' thus contains
two bishops, neither of which is unique so the pronouns/definite
descriptions would not be licensed.

- Formal Link:

(3) Every {man who has a wife/*married man} is sitting next to her

Since, semantically, there is no difference between these two, how come the
second one is out?

- Pronominal Ambiguity: Not every pronoun is treated as a definite
description, most are still treated as variables.

But the competition also suffers from a number of problems. Dynamic
semantics, which addresses the problem of pronominal ambiguity by radically
changing the logic of variable binding, has trouble with a variety of
pronoun uses that are straightforwardly analyzed by D-type theories (e.g.
paycheck sentences). Another alternative, Jacobson's (2000) variable-free
semantics, also solves the pronominal ambiguity issue, but still suffers
from the indistinguishable participants and formal link problems.

Chapter 2 (pp.40-92) fleshes out a new kind of D-type analysis, involving
NP deletion. The idea is that (i) a donkey pronoun has the syntax and
semantics of the determiner 'the', and (ii) it is followed by an
phonologically deleted NP at LF. The LF of (1) thus ends in ' [it
donkey]', meaning ' the donkey'. With respect to the three problems
for Heim's analysis, we see that the formal link problem is solved by the
fact that NP deletion requires a previous mention of the same NP; the other
two problems are addressed in chapters 3 and 4. E further introduces a new
set of data, involving elliptical continuations of donkey sentences:

(4) In this town, every farmer who owns a donkey beats it, and the priest
does too [*sloppy, strict]

Heim would incorrectly derive a sloppy reading (priest beats his own
donkey), while the NP deletion approach correctly predicts only the strict
reading. In the final sections E discusses a variety of other data that a
D-type theory can handle (but the competition can't): Bach-Peters and
paycheck sentences, and modal subordination. Finally, E addresses some
arguably problematic donkey phenomena. For instance, how to get weak
readings, i.e. how to prevent (5) from meaning that everyone put all their
dimes in the parking meter, as the current proposal seems to predict?

(5) Everyone who had a dime put it in the parking meter

Chapter 3 (pp.93-136) picks up the issue of pronominal ambiguity, so the
first task is to extend the NP deletion approach to bound and referential
uses of pronouns. In Heim & Kratzer, a regular pronoun is adorned with an
index, a natural number which is mapped to an individual by the assignment
function. Binding occurs when an index is lambda bound; (direct) reference
when it is free. The new unification consists in analyzing indices as
phonologically null NPs, so that a pronoun with a regular NP as argument
(remember pronouns are determiners) is a D-type pronoun, while with an
index NP, it's a regular pronoun.

On to overt definite descriptions. There are two schools of thought with
respect to the semantics of these. The Fregean claims that the uniqueness
requirement is a presupposition, the Russellian puts it in the truth
conditions. An argument for the Russellian approach is the different scope
possibilities, but the Fregean can do similar things if we allow explicit
quantification over world variables. A second argument pro Russell involves
embedded non-denoting definite descriptions that do not produce
presupposition failure. Here, Karttunen's (1974) solution is adopted to
save the Fregean account. All in all the Fregean analysis comes out the
winner. But it needs to be amended in view of examples of bound
descriptions. E settles on the option of adding an index as a second
argument to the overt definite determiner. The semantics is as follows: ||
[[the 1] farmer] ||^g = the unique x such that x is a farmer and x=g(1). We
single out a special index 0 to handle D-type uses: || [[the 0] farmer]
||^g = the unique x such that x is a farmer. In the final section E
proposes to add a second NP argument to pronoun-determiners as well, thus
completing the unification of definites and pronouns: it ~> [[it 3]
donkey]. Supporting evidence comes from Sauerland's (2002) analysis of
focussed bound pronouns and the intuitive analysis of resumptive pronouns
as spelled-out traces.

Chapter 4 (pp.137-157) tackles the problem of indistinguishable
participants, cf. Kamp's bishops, (2). Dynamic semantics correctly predicts
the bishop sentence (2) to mean: for all x, all y: if x and y are bishops
and x meets y, then x blesses y. Note already that, since meeting is a
symmetric relationship, this entails that we see each bishop blessing his
colleague and being blessed in return. A D-type account has trouble since
pronouns are definite description requiring unique bishops. After showing
why previous D-type solutions fail, E points out a neglected contrast
between (2) and (6):

(6) *If a bishop and a bishop meet, he blesses him

Dynamic semantics cannot distinguish these sentences, but E's new D-type
solution not only assigns the right truth conditions to (2), it also
explains the infelicity of (6). His solution hinges on a subtle situation
semantic interpretation of (2) that manages to distinguish the two bishops,
or rather the two minimal situations in which they occur. The first
situation contains just a bishop x, the second a bishop y meeting x. With
the two bishops distinguished in this way, it is not hard to postulate
contextually salient, deleted descriptions to pick them out in the
consequent. Appealing to the syntactic Coordinate Structure Constraint E
shows that the LF of (6) does not allow the bishops to be distinguished in
this way.

Chapter 5 (pp.138-168) uses the Japanese pronoun 'kare' (he) in an argument
for D-type, against dynamic and variable-free semantics. The observation is
that 'kare' can be used as a donkey or referential pronoun but not as a
bound variable, which would be problematic for these fully unified
analyses. E's solution is to treat 'kare' as a traditional definite
description, 'the unique male individual', without an index argument.
Thanks to our situation semantics we get co-variation in donkey sentences,
but because of the lack of index we do not get real variable binding.
However, this theory overgenerates, i.e. it predicts co-varying readings in
simple quantificational binding sentences, where 'kare' is actually out. To
solve this, E appeals to Reinhart's Rule I as a kind of blocking mechanism:
when a bound variable would be grammatical, use a regular pronoun (null in
Japanese) instead of 'kare'.

Chapter 6 (pp.169-184) extends the unification to proper names, the last
category of referring expression eligible for unification with pronouns and
descriptions. Treating names as descriptions is already an established,
though minority, view. E adapts the analysis of Burge (1973) and others
that says that 'Alfred' is really a noun referring to the property of being
called Alfred, as is apparent from sentences like 'There are a lot of
Alfreds at MIT'. The unmodified occurrence is then analyzed as modified by
a silent definite determiner. Add an index and the unification is complete:
Alfred ~> [[THE 2]Alfred], interpreted as 'the x such that x is called
Alfred and x=g(2)'. E shows how this analysis is immune to Kripke's famous
objections, pointing out the referentiality of the index determined by the
assignment. But, if names are like definite description and pronouns, we'd
expect not just referential readings, but also bound and donkey uses.
According to E, these exist, though their occurrence is obviously highly
constrained, e.g. by Principle C, which might explain why they haven't been
noticed before (see below). The crucial example of a donkey proper name is

(7) Every woman who has a husband called John and a lover called Gerontius
takes only Gerontius to the Rare Names Convention

Such donkey uses of names are extremely puzzling on the standard view of
proper names as directly referential terms, yet they are straightforwardly
analyzed (with index 0) on the current theory.


Because of its always clear structure and style, never straying too far
from the main point (the unification of type e expressions), I found the
book very accessible. This is not to say that E skimped on technicalities;
where necessary, there is enough formal rigor. And every formula is
supplemented with explanations and/or easy to read diagrams. My main
criticism would have to be a rather superficial matter of layout, probably
to be blamed on the editor: why endnotes, numbered per chapter? I found it
pretty disruptive to keep turning to the end and then look for the right
note 7. That said, I also encountered a few points of substantial
disagreement, which I discuss below.

First off, as is almost inevitable when reviewing a book like this, I found
some judgments questionable. A case in point is E's set of examples of
donkey ellipsis (p. 69), which distinguish Heim's D-type analysis from his
own. I, for one, am not convinced that (4) [above] really lacks a sloppy
reading, and if it does, I think that's better explained as a pragmatic
artifact of the choice of words (priests don't usually have donkeys). This
idea is almost suggested by E's own (very specific class of)
counterexamples: cases where the subject of the elided clause is included
in the class of subjects of the target clause do permit sloppy readings. E
gives a rather ad hoc, pragmatic explanation (involving, what I would call
local accommodation) for them, but I think the sloppy reading is in fact
generally available and it is easier to appeal to pragmatic factors to
explain why sometimes it is *dis*preferred. For instance, it seems to me
(and some colleagues, one native) that sloppy readings are available for (8):

(8a) Every child that owns a donkey loves it, and so does the biggest
donkey farmer in town

(8b) Every male farmer who owns a donkey beats it, but farmer Mary doesn't

The judgment is crucial: E predicts that the sloppy reading is totally out,
so if my judgments are correct, the phenomenon of donkey ellipsis,
presented as a knock-down argument against Heim, backfires.
My next point is more theoretical. It concerns the data and analysis of
'sore' and 'kare'. A good part of the introduction is devoted to Kurafuji’s
(1999) arguments and data that show that Japanese has two kinds of
pronouns: a null pronoun which behaves like English 'he', and an overt one,
'sore', that can be bound or referential but not donkey. This may well be
the case, but I don’t see that this requires a bunch of Japanese glosses,
because in all examples the English demonstrative pronoun 'that' patterns
exactly with 'sore'. Moreover, it is actually quite uncontroversial to
assume that 'sore' is indeed a (distal/medial) demonstrative (and this is
even very briefly hinted at by E). The basic observation would remain, but
much clearer and more general: distal demonstrative pronouns are like third
person pronouns in being bindable or referential, but they differ in not
allowing donkey readings. Given this, I think the explanation of chapter
5’s 'kare' as a proximal demonstrative deserves more attention than E gives
it. Admittedly, E does mention such an account, which he quickly tries to
dismiss with an example of an English distal demonstrative (cf. p.162 and
n.3 , p.215). I’m not claiming a ready-made solution, but I do feel that
the demonstrative analysis deserves a little more attention here.
Another theoretical remark concerns the semantics of proper names. E
successfully refutes two out of the three Kripkean arguments against
descriptivism, but the first one, I think, still applies to his new
descriptivist proposal. This is Kripke's contrast between 'John is called
John' (contingent truth) and 'The person called John is called John'
(necessary, analytic truth). As far as I can tell, E's analysis of the
former turns it into a necessary truth on a par with the latter, because
the property of being called John ends up as part of the asserted
contribution of a proper name 'John'. Note that this is obscured by the
fact that, in a sense, E's names are also rigid: ''the whole descriptive
content [of 'Socrates'] will be 'entity identical with Socrates and called
''Socrates''''' (p.173). In other words, the index determines a rigid
component (viz. being equal to the actual Socrates), but in addition the
name contributes something to the proposition, viz. that this individual is
called 'Socrates'. Thus, 'Socrates is called Socrates' comes out equivalent
to, say, 'Socrates is Socrates'.
I finish with two objections of a methodological nature. The first involves
the general semantic framework. Cast in the Heim & Kratzer (1998)
syntax-semantics framework and, in particular, building heavily on
Kratzer's (1989) situation semantics and Heim's (1990) D-type analysis, E's
semantic reduction is carried out 'East Coast fashion'. I feel that in some
places the discussion might have benefited from a somewhat wider view of
the diverse field of semantics. I am no impartial judge myself, but I'd
recommend a closer look at the presupposition-as-anaphora theory in DRT,
which has a lot to say about donkey anaphora, definite descriptions,
pronouns and also proper names. A case in point is Geurts' (1997) analysis
of proper names as presuppositions, i.e. just like definite descriptions
and pronouns. Indeed, so close are the parallels between the main claims of
that paper and this book that Geurts even came up with the same kind of
evidence: Geurts' example of a bound proper name below, for instance,
mirrors E's D-type example (7) to a T:

(9) If a child is christened Bambi and Disney Inc. hear about it, they will
sue Bambi's parents

And there are other missed opportunities of comparison between the DRT
framework and the East Coast way. The rather vague discussions of fixes
that involve contexts being pragmatically enriched, call to mind
alternative, perhaps cleaner, formulations involving accommodation of
presuppositions (e.g. the explanation of the apparent counterexamples to
E's prediction that elided donkeys have only strict readings, or the rather
complicated Karttunen analyses of non-denoting descriptions (p.108)). I
think the choice of identifying dynamic semantics with basic DPL is
unfortunate for the purpose of this book, and a more thorough look at DRT
and presupposition theory would have been more illuminating than the
comparison with variable-free semantics.

Another roughly methodological worry is that E sometimes seems to claim
more than he proves. A first case in point is his overall claim of
formulating a unified semantics of the expressions used to refer to
entities in natural language. In practice he covers third person pronouns,
definite descriptions and proper names. He completely fails to mention
indexical pronouns ('I', 'you') and demonstrative NPs ('this', 'that man
over there'), which are, in a sense, the paradigm of referring expressions.
I don't see immediately that E's D-type analysis extends naturally to
these, but if it does, a few words pointing it out would have certainly
been in place. A second example of E overstating his achievements occurs
when he uses Reinhart's Rule I to overcome a prima facie problematic
prediction of his analysis of 'kare'. E tries to turn this reliance on a
pragmatic rule into a virtue by boldly presenting it as evidence for Rule
I, rather than a weakness of his own theory, fixed by an arguably ad hoc
application of another. A final example of this I found in E's reaction
against the seemingly problematic weak readings: his D-type analysis of (5)
would predict that everybody put all their dimes in the meter, which is
clearly against our judgments. He boldly claims to deflect this obvious
argument against his theory by pointing out that weak readings also occur
with overt descriptions instead of pronouns. In fact, I don't see how this
saves his theory at all. If anything it makes things worse, for it
undermines his theory of all definites, not just pronouns. True, it shows
that NP-deletion isn't the culprit, but surely the book defends more than
just NP-deletion? What about the unification of definites using a
finegrained situation semantics?

Finally, a remark about the Bugblatter Beast of Traal, which assumes that
if you can't see it, it can’t see you, thus seemingly symmetricizing an
asymmetric relation. E likens this to the inverse trick of asymmetricizing
the bishops meeting each other in (2). However, it's not at all clear that
the BBT really makes the not-seeing relation symmetric, for that would
require that it also assumes for instance that if it can't see you, you
can't see it. Further research is required to find out if that is indeed
the case.

Conclusion: A clear and precise exposition of a new D-type approach to
pronouns, definite descriptions and proper names. A must read for anyone
interested in donkey anaphora, and recommended for anyone in the East Coast
school of semantics.


Burge, T. 1973. Reference and proper names. Journal of Philosophy.
Geurts, B. 1997. Good news for the description theory of names. Journal of

Heim, I. 1990. E-type pronouns and donkey anaphora. Linguistics and

Heim, I. and A. Kratzer. 1998. Semantics in Generative Grammar.

Jacobson, P. 1999. Towards a variable-free semantics. Linguistics and

Karttunen, L. 1974. Presupposition and linguistic context. Theoretical

Kratzer, A. 1989. An investigation of the lumps of thought. Linguistics and

Kurafuji, T. 1999. Japanese Pronouns in Dynamic Semantics. Rutgers

Emar Maier is to defend his Ph.D. thesis 'Belief in Context: towards a
unified semantics of de re and de se attitude reports' at the Radboud
University Nijmegen, The Netherlands, in November 2006. Besides the
semantics and pragmatics of attitude reports and quotation his research
interests include proper names, indexicals and direct
reference/presupposition in general. He's currently teaching at the
University of Amsterdam.

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