Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 315–362 | Cite as

Reference to and via properties: the view from Dutch

  • Louise McNally
  • Henriëtte de SwartEmail author
Open Access
Research Article


Many languages offer a surprisingly complex range of options for referring to entities using expressions whose main descriptive content is contributed by an adjective, such as Dutch de blinde ‘the blind (person),’ het besprokene, ‘the (matters) discussed,’ or het ongewone van het niet roken ‘the strange (thing) about not smoking.’ In this paper, we present a case study of the syntax and compositional semantics of three such constructions in Dutch, one of which we argue has not previously been identified in the literature. The data and the analysis will shed light on our understanding of how reference using adjectives differs from that using nouns in languages that have the two categories, as well as on the differences between reference to entities via their properties vs. reference to properties themselves. Finally, we briefly discuss related work and indicate directions for future study of the typological variation found in this rich and highly understudied corner of natural language.


Adjective semantics Noun semantics Abstract objects Nominalization Inflected adjectives Kinds Properties Tropes 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Translation and Language SciencesUniversitat Pompeu FabraBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Utrecht Institute of LinguisticsUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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