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Definiteness projection


We argue that definite noun phrases give rise to uniqueness inferences characterized by a pattern we call definiteness projection. Definiteness projection says that the uniqueness inference of a definite projects out unless there is an indefinite antecedent in a position that filters presuppositions. We argue that definiteness projection poses a serious puzzle for e-type theories of (in)definites; on such theories, indefinites should filter existence presuppositions but not uniqueness presuppositions. We argue that definiteness projection also poses challenges for dynamic approaches, which have trouble generating uniqueness inferences and predicting some filtering behavior, though unlike the challenge for e-type theories, these challenges have mostly been noted in the literature, albeit in a piecemeal way. Our central aim, however, is not to argue for or against a particular view, but rather to formulate and motivate a generalization about definiteness which any adequate theory must account for.


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Funding was provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (GB) (Grant Nos. AH/N001877/1, AH/M009602/1).

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Correspondence to Daniel Rothschild.

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Many thanks to audiences at Leibniz-ZAS, the NYU Mind and Language seminar, the 2019 London Semantics Day at Queen Mary, and the UCL Semantics Seminar, and to Kyle Blumberg, Richard Breheny, Keny Chatain, Simon Charlow, Cian Dorr, Patrick Elliot, Nathan Klinedinst, Lukas Lewerentz, Karen Lewis, Florian Schwarz, Yasu Sudo, and three anonymous referees for Natural Language Semantics for very helpful comments and discussion.

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Mandelkern, M., Rothschild, D. Definiteness projection. Nat Lang Semantics 28, 77–109 (2020).

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