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Form-function mismatches in (formally) definite English noun phrases

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Abstract

This article discusses two classes of so-called &#8216;weak definites&#8217;, arguing that their (definite) form is misleading as to their (non-definite) semantics, and outlining a diachronic explanation for why each of these classes (observable in sentences such as <i>Let&#8217;s go to the pub</i> and <i>He came to the bank of a river</i>) should exhibit this particular form-function mismatch. For examples such as <i>the pub</i> the loss of an obligatorily definite interpretation is argued to be the result of a semantic reanalysis such that reference is no longer to a specific entity but to the activity conventionally associated with that entity. For examples such as <i>the bank of a river</i> the mismatch is argued to be a consequence of an incompatibility between the semantics of indefiniteness marking and the semantics of relational nouns, which arises when definiteness marking becomes obligatory in a language.

References

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