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The role of demonstratives across languages

Dorothy Ahn, Rutgers University

March 8, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 1-S-5 Green Hall

Program in Linguistics

Many traditional assumptions about demonstratives such as ‘that’ and ‘those’ and how they differ from definites like ‘the’ have been reevaluated in the recent semantic literature against cross-linguistic data. Taking one of the analyses for demonstratives under which they are definite descriptions with an additional restriction, this talk focuses on the question of what this additional argument consists of. Based on data from conventional uses of demonstratives such as those with pointing and ‘exceptional’ ones such as presentational and bridging uses, I argue for an updated semantics of definite and demonstrative expressions, one that cuts the spectrum into two dimensions: the restrictions and the linking layer. I argue that the main function of the additional argument is that of linking the description to the intended referent, and that this linker is inherently deictic, thus relating it back to some of the more traditional accounts of demonstratives such as Kaplan. I discuss the predictions of this theory, specifically on how children might acquire the different uses of demonstratives in language development.

Dorothy Ahn is an Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department at Rutgers University – New Brunswick. As a semanticist interested in cross-linguistic typology, she investigates how the underlying building blocks of meaning compose to derive the patterns that we see within and across languages. To do so, she makes use of both formal theoretic and experimental approaches to natural language semantics and pragmatics. Dorothy Ahn received her Ph.D. degree in Linguistics from Harvard University in May 2019 with a dissertation looking at definite expressions. She is generally interested in elements that are associated (at least structurally) with the nominal domain such as demonstratives, anaphora, number marking, and quantifiers.

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