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Title: Re: 17.836, Why are there Common Nouns?
Submitter: Michael Covington
Description: My question was why human languages have chosen to encode some one-place predicates (such as lambda(x).dog(x) ) as nouns, which are syntactically like names (logical constants), rather than as adjectives
(lambda(x).green(x) ) or verbs ( lambda(x).barks(x) ).

Larry Horn gave me a very helpful reply, citing "Kripke's and Putnam's arguments that common nouns are in many, perhaps most, cases names for kinds of things, with extensions determined by direct reference, rather than descriptive entities whose reference is determined via sense... In this case, the relation between proper and common "names" is relatively natural."

References are:
Kripke, Saul. 1980. Naming and Necessity. Harvard U. Press. Originally published in a different format in Davidson & Harman, eds., Semantics of Natural Language. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1972.

Putnam, Hilary. 1975. The meaning of meaning. Anthologized in various
places, including his _Mind, Language, and Reality, vol. 1_ (Cambridge U.
Press, 1975) and his Philosophical Papers (also CUP, 1975).

Rudy Troike pointed out that not all languages use common nouns for things like lambda(x).dog(x). Hopi, for instance, can use a verb. He also mentions that the key idea of the DP Hypothesis is that "noun phrases" (DP) and verb phrases or sentences (IP, CP) are not as radically different as their names suggest.

Joyce McDonough and Eve Danziger added several more languages to the list of those in which the equivalents of our common nouns need not be nouns.

Several people referred me to literature on *proper* nouns, and I haven't digested all of it yet well enough to know whether it's relevant.

Isabelle Buchstaller referred me to:
Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech Acts: An essay on the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 170 and thereabout.

Van Langendonck, W. (1999). Neurolinguistic and syntactic evidence for basic level meaning in proper names. Functions of Language 6: 95-138.

Lewis Howe referred me to:
Burge, Tyler. 1973. Reference and Proper names. Journal of Philosophy 70.425-439.

Dowty, David R., Robert E. Wall, and Stanley Peters. 1981. Introduction to
Montague Semantics. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer.

Kripke, Saul A. 1980. Naming and Necessity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Searle, John. 1958. Proper Names. Mind 67.166-173.

Strawson, P.F. 1959. Individuals. New York: Doubleday.

Aubrey Nunes referred me to 2 recent books by Hagit Borer on the projection
of syntactic structures.

Thanks to all for responding!

Michael A. Covington - Associate Director
Artificial Intelligence Center -
The University of Georgia
111 Boyd GSRC, Athens, GA 30602-7415 U.S.A.
Date Posted: 03-Apr-2006
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
LL Issue: 17.987
Posted: 03-Apr-2006

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