LINGUIST List 12.2794

Thu Nov 8 2001

Review: King, Complex Demonstratives

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  • Yura Lander, review of King (2001)

    Message 1: review of King (2001)

    Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 17:04:25 +1080000
    From: Yura Lander <>
    Subject: review of King (2001)

    King, Jeffrey C. (2001) Complex Demonstratives: A Quantificational Account. MIT Press, xiii+207pp, paperback ISBN 0-262-61169-4, $18.00, Contemporary Philosophical Monographs 2, A Bradford book.

    Yury A. Lander, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow.

    [This book was announced on LINGUIST at --Eds.]

    SYNOPSIS For a long time demonstratives were considered as devices which provide a direct reference to individuals existing in the actual world. This view was based on that the stereotypical use of demonstratives was accompanied by speakers' demonstrations, which were thought to have a determining role in a reference process. In his book, Jeffrey King revolts against such theories and suggests that complex demonstratives (of the form "that N'") are in fact context-sensitive quantifiers rather than referential expressions.

    This core idea is introduced in Chapter 1 ("Against Direct Reference Accounts"). In order to challenge the orthodox view, the author gives a number of examples where complex demonstratives do not refer to a particular individual the speaker has in mind. These cases are further classified into "no demonstration no speaker reference" (NDNS) uses like (1), "quantification in" (QI) uses like (2), and "narrow scope" (NS) uses like (3):

    (1) That hominid who discovered how to start fires was a genius. (p.9) (2) Every father dreads that moment when his oldest child leaves home. (p.10) (3) That professor who brought in the biggest grant in each division will be honored. In all ten professors will be honored. (p.10-11)

    All of these examples contradict the settled view in that here 'that' phrases obviously cannot refer directly to somebody/something familiar to a speaker and hence are non-rigid, while the uses of demonstratives which were usually considered by direct reference theorists were certainly rigid. At the same time, King claims, we can easily account for such utterances as (1-3) if we assume that complex demonstratives are quantifiers. The latter idea is further supported by accepted syntactic tests for the quantifier raising which all corroborate that complex demonstratives do undergo this sort of movement.

    Chapter 2 ("Three Quantificational Accounts of 'That' Phrases") is concerned with possible developments of the ideas presented before. King argues that all possible quantificational theories of complex demonstratives must have in common that the interpretation of 'that' phrases depends not on accompanying demonstrations (which can be absent) but on a speaker's intentions, among which two sorts are distinguished: perceptual (where the speaker wants to talk about something s/he is/was perceiving) and descriptive (where the speaker is going to talk about something that - according to the speaker's beliefs - uniquely possesses certain properties). King supposes that these two sorts of intentions are different in that how they affect the semantics of 'that' phrases. On the one hand, although both sorts MUST provide some restrictive property for the denotation of a complex demonstrative, when a speaker has perceptual intention this property is unequivocally 'being identical to the object of intention' while when the intention under discussion is descriptive the restricting property is determined by the broad context and by default coincide with the descriptive content of a 'that' phrase. This results in that complex demonstratives are rigid if and only if they are used with perceptual intention. On the other hand, the "unique joint instantiation" of the properties determined by the content of a complex demonstrative and by a speaker's intention depends on the context of utterance in the case of perceptual intention but not in the case of descriptive intention.

    In Chapter 3 ("Modality, Negation, and Verbs of Propositional Attitude") the author discusses scope interactions between complex demonstratives and various operators. The general aim of this chapter is to show that 'that' phrases can have narrow scope readings - contra to what is predicted by direct reference theories. King argues that although there are sentences where it is hard to get the narrow scope reading (especially, in the case of perceptual intentions), usually it is possible to find a context where this reading becomes available.

    Chapter 4 ("This and That: A Variety of Loose Ends") is intended to discuss issues of King's theory which are not raised in previous chapters. Two of these issues seems to be most important here (and in fact, cover a large part of the chapter). First, the author discusses similarities and differences between demonstratives and other determiners. King shows that while having universal properties of determiners (such as conservativeness in at least one of the possible interpretations of this property), demonstratives are closer to nonlogical determiners containing lexical items (such as "every ... but John"). Further, when the phenomenon of quantifier domain restriction is discussed, it turns out that the domain of demonstratives is restricted in the way other than that of other determiners, and this generally supports King's view that context-dependence (or to be more precise, intention- dependence) is embedded in the semantics of demonstratives and not in the pragmatics of their use. The second important issue (which on King's confession requires a separate monograph) concerns the interpretation of simple 'that' (as in "Its pool is behind that"). The author supposes that the simple 'that' can be analyzed in the same way as complex demonstratives are. That is, simple 'that' construction may contain an empty N' constituent which still refer to the properties determined by a speaker's intentions.

    In Chapter 5 ("Against Ambiguity Approaches") King defends a uniform analysis of complex demonstratives (vs. an analysis which treats rigid and non-rigid uses of 'that' phrases as a reflection of the ambiguity of 'that'). Thus, rigid and non-rigid 'that' phrases are opposed to definite phrases in the same respects, and both types of complex demonstratives seem to undergo quantifier raising - hence, an approach that treats rigid and non-rigid 'that' phrases uniformly (such as King's approach) is preferable.

    Finally, the appendix contains a formal semantic representation of King's theory.

    CRITICAL EVALUATION This monograph is a serious and scrupulous investigation which contains rich data and extensive discussion (including answers to a lot of possible counterarguments). Still, King's book is an exposition of a SINGLE theory applied to a LIMITED collection of facts, and this determines some of its shortcomings.

    First, it is surprising that nothing is said about semantic differences between various demonstratives (the discussion is mainly devoted to the differences in use of demonstratives). Perhaps, the difference between 'this' and 'that', 'these' and 'those' is attributed exclusively to pragmatic factors (such as, say, physical or "conceptual" distance), but even if so, it needs to be said explicitly.

    Second, since the author is concerned mainly with his own theory, nothing (with the exception of some basic claims) can be found here on how this theory is related to other theories of quantification and context-dependence and how the relevant data is related to similar phenomena. Nevertheless, I am sure that a brief look on similar phenomena could increase our knowledge of the deep mechanisms described in the monograph. For example, a reader acquainted to the long discussion of specificity could find that the problems raised in King's book regarding demonstratives resemble the problems arising with the interpretation of 'certain' phrases including their QI uses such as (4) discussed by Hintikka (1986) and Enc (1991).

    (4) According to Freud, every man unconsciously wants to marry a certain woman -- his mother. (Hintikka 1986: 332)

    Even more generally, one may relate the presented theory to various treatments of context-dependency, especially those which deal with binding implicit variables (e.g., Partee 1989) (since implicit property variables which affect the semantics of demonstratives play an important role in King's formal representation).

    Note, however, that none of these remarks applies to essentials of King's theory, to which I now turn. In fact, I would like to discuss only few of important claims forming basis of the theory introduced in the reviewed book:

    1) Demonstratives are determiners (i.e. they "contribute two-place relations between properties to propositions" (p.24); note the non-standard view on determiners). King argues for this claim mainly demonstrating certain similarities between the behavior of complex demonstratives and that of other quantifiers including definite phrases. Note, however, that definite phrases are not always thought to be quantifiers, especially when their anaphoric use is emphasized (as in Heim's (1982) theory of file change semantics). Unfortunately, the anaphoric use of demonstratives escaped from King's attention, so it is not clear how he treats it (nevertheless, this sort of use seems to be very important in typological perspective, since in many languages demonstratives developed either to 3rd person pronouns or to definite articles). Still, this is not to say that the idea that demonstratives are (semantic) determiners is wrong. The only claim I would like to make here is that this idea is theory-dependent to a considerable degree.

    2) The interpretation of complex demonstratives requires the presence of some (additional) restricting properties uniquely instantiated in an object of a speaker's intention. This idea seems to be a valuable gain, since it not only contrast demonstratives with a number of semantically close expressions, but also allows to account for some interesting facts which turn out to be quite far from the stereotypical use of demonstratives. Let me give an example. Bowdle & Ward (1995) found out that generic demonstratives (as in "Those Labradors make great pets") are likely to be used with more specific terms of kinds (cp. #"Those dogs make great pets"). King's theory can easily account for this: the more specific a kind is the more likely its instances will have some relevant unique property.

    3) The distinction between perceptive and descriptive uses of demonstratives also seems to be very useful not only in the cases provided by King. Thus, it seems that in many languages demonstratives are used both with perceptive and descriptive intentions, although there can be special (demonstrative-like) words used only with descriptive intentions. And this could be another argument against approaches postulating that demonstratives are ambiguous between rigid (perceptive) and non-rigid (descriptive) uses.

    As I have already said, these are only some of important topics touched upon in King's monograph. Many others (such as the correlation between rigidness and a certain sort of a speaker's intention) require great attention. In any case, the theory proposed by King (unlike the "direct reference" theory) does account for different uses of demonstratives, and as such deserves consideration.

    REFERENCES Bowdle, B. F. & G. Ward (1995) Generic demonstratives. Proceedings of the 20th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society, Berkeley: BLS, 32-43.

    En�, M. (1991) The semantics of specificity. Linguistic Inquiry 22 (1), 1-25.

    Heim, I. (1982) The Semantics of Definite and Indefinite Noun Phrases. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

    Hintikka, J. (1986) The semantics of A CERTAIN. Linguistic Inquiry 17 (2), 331-336.

    Partee, B. H. (1989) Binding implicit variables in quantified contexts. Papers from 25th Regional Meeting, Chicago Linguistic Society, Chicago: CLS, 342-365.

    ABOUT THE REVIEWER I am a research fellow in the Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow. My main interests include the typology of noun phrases, quantification, and Austronesian and Slavic linguistics.