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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

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Discussion Details

Title: Why are there common nouns?
Submitter: Michael Covington
Description: Could anyone point me to literature that discusses the following issue?

One of the biggest discrepancies between natural language syntax and formal
logic is that, in logic, common nouns are predicates, but in natural
language syntax, they are very much like names (logical constants) even
though their referents are not constant.

I presume the reason for this is that the human mind has chosen to treat
descriptive common nouns like names, and that this has to do with the way
we maintain reference in discourse.

In psychology, there is a time-honored tradition (from Kintsch) of writing
semantic representations in a kind of ''mentalese'' where common nouns are
handled like names and are not considered to be predicative.

Have semanticists said anything illuminating about this issue? It must be
one of the oldest questions in semantic theory.
Date Posted: 18-Mar-2006
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
LL Issue: 17.836
Posted: 18-Mar-2006

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