The Elusive Scope of Descriptions

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Abstract

Sentences with more than one quantifier often exhibit ambiguities. For example, ‘Every miner went to a meeting’ has two readings depending on whether we take there to be one meeting that every miner went to or (possibly) different meetings corresponding to each miner. This paper discusses the theory that such ambiguities are directly akin to quantifier scope ambiguities in logic. Certain syntactic and semantic evidence suggests that with indefinite and definite descriptions, such as ‘a meeting’ and ‘the president’, these ambiguities are better understood in some other way, either as being due to quantifier domain restrictions or choice functions. This paper discusses the major considerations in this debate by way of an introduction to the type of research being conducted at the intersection of linguistics and philosophy of language.

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