Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 83–135 | Cite as

The scope of indefinites

  • Dorit Abusch


This paper claims that indefinite descriptions, singular and plural, have different scope properties than genuine quantifiers. This claim is based on their distinct behavior in island constructions: while indefinites in islands can have intermediate (and maximal) scope readings, quantifiers cannot. Further, the simplest in situ interpretation strategy for indefinites results in incorrect truth conditions for intermediate (and maximal) scope readings. I introduce a mechanism which “auto-matically” preserves the restriction on free variables corresponding to indefinites, in a way which allows the restriction to be carried up in the course of semantic interpretation and to be used at the level where the variable is quantified. This mechanism is a realization of the “indefinites-as-free-variables” proposal of Lewis, Kamp, and Heim, but emphasizes the role of the restriction. I then show that distributive readings of plural indefinites also display island-escaping behavior and argue for an independent, island-insensitive distribution mechanism.


Truth Condition Free Variable Semantic Interpretation Distinct Behavior Distribution Mechanism 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorit Abusch
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für maschinelle SprachverarbeitungUniversität StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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