Research Article

Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 169-199

First online:

On identification and transworld identity in natural language: the case of -ever free relatives

  • Daphna HellerAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, University of Toronto Email author 
  • , Lynsey WolterAffiliated withDept. of English, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

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An -ever free relative is felicitous only when the speaker doesn’t know, or doesn’t care about, the identity of the entity denoted. In this paper we investigate what it means to identify an entity by examining the non-identification condition on -ever free relatives. Following Dayal (In A. Lawson (Ed.), Proceedings of SALT VII, 1997), we analyze -ever free relatives as definites with a modal dimension. We show that the variation in the identity of the entity across the possible worlds in the modal dimension cannot be captured in a model where transworld identity is expressed using a single trivial principle of identity, and present an analysis within a model where transworld identity is relativized to noun meanings, which has been proposed in the philosophical literature for other reasons (Geach 1968; Gupta, The logic of common nouns: an investigation in quantified modal logic, 1980). The analysis thus shows that natural language semantics is sensitive to relative identity in the sense of Geach and Gupta; furthermore, it sets the stage for a new typology of referring expressions based on which expression types contribute principles of transworld identity.


Relative identity Referring expressions Sorts Free relatives