Structured Nominal and Modal Reference, by Adrian Brasoveanu (PhD dissertation, 1up pdf, 378pp)

Committee: Maria Bittner (chair), Hans Kamp (external member), Roger Schwarzschild and Matthew Stone.


The dissertation argues that discourse reference in natural language involves two equally important components with essentially the same interpretive dynamics, namely reference to values, i.e. non-singleton sets of objects (individuals and possible worlds), and reference to structure, i.e. the correlation / dependency between such sets, which is introduced and incrementally elaborated upon in discourse.

To define and investigate structured discourse reference, a new dynamic system couched in classical (many-sorted) type logic is introduced which extends Compositional DRT (CDRT, Muskens 1996) with plural information states, i.e. information states are modeled as sets of variable assignments (following van den Berg 1996a), which can be represented as matrices with assignments (sequences) as rows. A plural info state encodes both values (the columns of the matrix store sets of objects) and structure (each row of the matrix encodes a correlation / dependency between the objects stored in it). Given the underlying type logic, compositionality at sub-clausal level follows automatically and standard techniques from Montague semantics (e.g. type shifting) become available.

The idea that plural info states are semantically necessary is motivated by examples with morphologically singular anaphors, in contrast to the previous literature that argues for plural info states based on plural anaphora. Plural Compositional DRT (PCDRT) enables us compositionally account for a variety of phenomena, including: (i) mixed weak & strong donkey anaphora, e.g., Every person who buys a computer and has a credit card uses it to pay for it, (ii) quantificational subordination, e.g., Harvey courts a woman at every convention. She always comes to the banquet with him (Karttunen 1976), (iii) modal anaphora and modal subordination, e.g., A wolf might come in. It would eat Harvey first (based on Roberts 1989) and (iv) naturally-occurring discourses exhibiting complex interactions between modalized conditionals, donkey anaphora, modal subordination and the entailment particle therefore, e.g., [A] man cannot live without joy. Therefore, when he is deprived of true spiritual joys, it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures (Thomas Aquinas).

The PCDRT account of these phenomena explicitly and systematically captures the anaphoric and quantificational parallels between the individual and modal domains.

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