Dynamics of plurality in quantification and anaphora

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Wang, Linton I-chi

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This dissertation investigates the semantics, logic, and metaphysics of plurality, focusing especially on the issues that arise from the interpretation of different plural readings in sentences containing plural terms like ‘Kerri and Misty’ and ‘three students’. The topic has generated a good deal of research in the last three decades that has produced significant results in understanding plural sentences. The main contribution of this dissertation is to adopt two methodological turns that take us beyond sentential boundaries and the syntax-semantics interface to reconsider some fundamental issues which are still unclear in research on this area. By going beyond sentential boundaries, the dissertation shows that different plural readings not only have truth conditional effects on the interpretation of sentences, they also have semantic effects beyond the sentences and substantially affect the interpretation of discourse. This leads to the exploitation of dynamic semantics in interpreting plural sentences. The requirement for going beyond the syntax-semantics interface arises from the difficulty of identifying both the syntactic and semantic categories of factors contributing to plural readings. This leads to the separation of the construction of logical forms (information packaging) and their interpretation (information content). An underspecified semantics, which is essentially type driven, is provided for the compositional and consistent construction of logical forms. The proposed dynamic semantics applies to the logical form interpretation. Some theses emerge from working out the elements of the methodological turns. First, the meaning of ‘plurality’ can be identified as the epistemic modal semantic notion ‘possibly more than one.’ This notion can be applied to the semantics of the pronominal number of anaphors, the identification of plural terms across languages, and the plurality constraint of plural readings. Second, it is further argued that the number markings of head nouns and verbs are semantically uninterpretable. Third, the proposed dynamic semantics provides a unified mechanism for both quantificational and plural readings. Fourth, the proposed dynamic semantics provides a nominalist thesis of plural reference and plural quantification: plural terms ’singularly’ refer to or quantify over nothing other than normal singular objects.