DESCRIPTIONS IN CHINESE: A CROSS-LANGUAGE STUDY OF INDEFINITE AND DEFINITE DESCRIPTIONS

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Yu Gu

Abstract

This dissertation defends a Russellian quantificational account of descriptions based on a systematic investigation of two types of definites in the article-less language of Mandarin Chinese. Descriptions in the forms of an F and the F have been central to discussion in philosophy of language ever since Russell’s (1905) milestone paper On Denoting. Russell proposed that these article-determined noun phrases in English should not be treated as referential expression, but instead as quantificational expressions. In other words, the logical form of the descriptive sentence ‘the king of France is bald’ is very different to the logical form of the sentence ‘Russell is bald.’ A sentential utterance containing a referential expression expresses a singular proposition that is about an individual as its direct constituent. A sentence containing a description, on the other hand, needs to be viewed as having a quantificational structure. Russell’s theory of descriptions has two central claims. First, a sentence containing a definite description in the grammatical form of ‘the so-and-so’ shares a similar structure to a sentence involving a quantifier phrase such as ‘every so-and-so’. Second, the truth conditions of a statement with a definite description embedded in need to be analysed as containing a composition of the existential and the uniqueness quantifications. A striking feature of cross-linguistic study is that only a sectional of languages contain an explicit article system. Surprisingly little attention has been addressed to the question of what implications this has for Russell’s (or opposing) philosophical theory of descriptions. In this dissertation, I will draw on a detailed study of one of the most widely spoken articleless languages, Mandarin Chinese, to argue that Russell’s philosophical insights still apply even in the absence of grammatically realised articles. My conclusion will be that the debate concerns the semantics and pragmatics of definiteness is just as relevant in the article-less domain as it is for languages like English where it has traditionally been discussed. Furthermore, I argue that reflection on Mandarin expressions of definiteness support a Russellian quantificational theory of descriptions.

Details

Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Aug 2019