Summary and Keywords
Nominal reference is central to both linguistic semantics and philosophy of language. On the theoretical side, both philosophers and linguists wrestle with the problem of how the link between nominal expressions and their referents is to be characterized, and what formal tools are most appropriate to deal with this issue. The problem is complex because nominal expression come in a large variety of forms, from simple proper names, pronouns, or bare nouns (Jennifer, they, books) to complex expressions involving determiners and various quantifiers (the/every/no/their answer). While the reference of such expressions is varied, their basic syntactic distribution as subjects or objects of various types, for instance, is homogeneous. Important advances in understanding this tension were made with the advent of the work of R. Montague and that of his successors. The problems involved in understanding the relationship between pronouns and their antecedents in discourse have led to another fundamental theoretical development, namely that of dynamic semantics. On the empirical side, issues at the center of both linguistic and philosophical investigations concern how to best characterize the difference between definite and indefinite nominals, and, more generally, how to understand the large variety of determiner types found both within a language and cross-linguistically. These considerations led to refining the definite/indefinite contrast to include fine-grained specificity distinctions that have been shown to be relevant to various morphosyntactic phenomena across the world’s languages. Considerations concerning nominal reference are thus relevant not only to semantics but also to morphology and syntax. Some questions within the domain of nominal reference have grown into rich subfields of inquiry. This is the case with generic reference, the study of pronominal reference, the study of quantifiers, and the study of the semantics of nominal number marking.
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