LINGUIST List 32.2867

Thu Sep 09 2021

Diss: English; German; Semantics: Jan Köpping: ''The individual parameter''

Editor for this issue: Sarah Robinson <>

Date: 03-Sep-2021
From: Jan Köpping <>
Subject: The individual parameter
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Institution: Goethe University Frankfurt
Program: Institute for Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2018

Author: Jan Köpping

Dissertation Title: The individual parameter

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            German (deu)

Dissertation Director:
Thomas Ede Zimmermann
Manfred Sailer
Philippe Schlenker

Dissertation Abstract:

The present thesis tackles the unification of two-dimensional semantic systems, which are designed to deal with context-dependency of a certain kind i.e. indexicality, with dynamic theories of meaning, designed to capture facts about anaphoricity and the distribution of definite and indefinite articles. The need for a more principled look at this unification is twofold. Firstly, there is an overlap of these two families of theories in terms of empirical data, namely third person personal pronouns, as well as definite descriptions. Both kinds of expressions have anaphoric as well as non-anaphoric usages, whereas some of the latter ones can be captured in terms of indexicality. But, on the other hand, no language, especially not German and English, the main sources of data in this thesis, seems to distinguish these two usages formally, i.e. by employing different expressions. Hence the need for a unified framework in which this sort of ambiguity can be treated. Secondly, the theoretical state is dissatisfactory in the sense that the families of theories take very disparate forms that are not easy to relate conceptually.

The overlap in empirical area of application strongly suggests that this dichotomy is an artifact of the way these theories traditionally are developed and justified. This thesis seeks to overcome this state of the field. It proceeds as follows.

The first chapter discusses the way in which theories indexicality are designed. After taking a closer look some hallmarks of these theories such as the notions of index- and context-dependency themselves, double indexing, etc., it develops a notion of index dependency that makes use of a more complex individual parameter than the one that is usually assumed in the literature. Apart from agents and addressees, the two standard components of indices that represent contexts, additional objects are assumed. This leads to a variant of the semantics of deictically used third person expression that is called ‘indexical theory of demonstratives’, which is then investigated further.

The second chapter discusses the classics of dynamic semantics: DRT, DPL, and FCS. It arrives at the common core of all of these theories that consists in the assumption of a novel sort of variable namely active variables as opposed to free and bound ones that are intended to model the behavior of (in)definite descriptions and pronouns. The projection behavior of these variables or discourse referents is described either in (discourse-)syntactic or semantic terms. The chapter also arrives at a new formulation of the uniqueness condition that is thought to be part of the semantics of definite descriptions and sketches an account of transparent negation.

The third chapter then combines the insights of the previous ones by developing the notion of representation that connects the entities of evaluation of the first chapter i.e. indices with those of the second namely sets of assignments, a.k.a. files. The formal language that emerged in the second chapter is endowed with two kinds of variables for situations to allow for double indexing within a dynamic setting. A novel interpretation mechanism for the so designed language is proposed, which is shown to capture not only those aspects that are known to exist in two-dimensional frameworks, but also certain other index-index interactions that are described in yet another body of literature.

The final chapter discusses potential flaws of the theory and sketches an account of allegedly bound indexicals that is compatible with Kaplan’s infamous ban on monsters.

Page Updated: 09-Sep-2021