NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
ERIC Number: ED569018
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 307
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: N/A
ISBN: 978-1-3038-7923-4
A Relevance Theoretic Account of Definite Descriptions
Puglisi, Diana C.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, Georgetown University
Definite descriptions have a number of different readings, the most prominent being the referential and attributive readings. On the referential reading, the description "The current President of the USA" is interpreted as "Barack Obama"; read attributively, it is interpreted as "the current President of the USA, whoever it is". Philosophical work on definite descriptions tends to examine the question of whether the referential/attributive distinction is a semantic or a pragmatic phenomenon. I use Sperber and Wilson's relevance theory to provide a contextualist account of the English definite article, which views all of its uses as arising out of the interplay between semantics and pragmatics. I examine the strengths and weakness of previous contextualist approaches to definite descriptions, and I offer an account that treats the English definite article as encoding a procedural constraint on interpretation, where "interpretation" is understood in terms of relevance theory. According to relevance theory, hearers select the interpretation which yields the greatest cognitive benefits for the least cognitive processing cost. The cost of processing, and the benefits derived from it, vary with the context. Thus, while the procedural constraint encoded by the definite article limits the range of potential interpretations, which interpretation is assigned to a definite description depends on the context. In addition to the referential and attributive uses, this relevance theoretic view can also account for the other readings of definite descriptions. The view is subject to a serious objection, however, one which faces any relevance theoretic account of a communicative phenomenon. Because it is not currently possible to quantify cognitive benefits and cognitive processing costs, it does not appear possible to show that the relevance theoretic account of descriptions predicts that a particular interpretation of a description would be the natural interpretation. This would render the account untestable. I argue that with some additions to relevance theory, it is possible to overcome this objection. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
ProQuest LLC. 789 East Eisenhower Parkway, P.O. Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106. Tel: 800-521-0600; Web site:
Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A