TENSE WITHOUT SCOPE: AN ANALYSIS OF NOUNS AS INDEXICALS
Ph.D. Dissertation, 1981
In model-theoretic semantics, it has been customary to distinguish between
two classes of expressions claimed to differ in the kind of context dependency
they exhibit. One class contains expressions like I, now, traditionally
called indexicals. The second class contains expressions assumed to be
non-indexical (though still context dependent), including nouns and verbs.
One motivation for this distinction has been the assumption that indexicals
behave differently from non-indexicals in that their interpretation is
independent of the scope of negation or intensional operators such as
tense, modals and propositional attitude verbs, whereas the denotation
of a non-indexical is taken to vary according to the scope of sentential
operators. In this study, I challenge the assumption that nouns and verbs
are basically different from indexicals. I show that certain readings
are not representable using traditional scope analysis, and that the scope
analysis can be saved only by trivializing scope and introducing arbitrary
operators. An adequate analysis is possible, however, if we treat nouns
and verbs as indexicals. This treatment has further advantages. It allows
different denotations for different occurrences of the same noun in a
sentence, and automatically gives us the domain of quantification for
noun phrases. It also allows a unified treatment of definite descriptions
by letting the difference in the individual concept, directly referential
and generic readings fall out of differences in contexts. Another reason
for distinguishing indexicals from non-indexicals has been the assumption
that indexicals contribute their denotation to propositions, whereas non-indexicals
do not. This was motivated by a pre-theoretic notion of propositions as
objects of mental attitudes. Treating nouns and verbs as indexicals gives
us the kind of propositions which fully characterize mental attitudes.
The analysis I propose also has the following advantages. (1) The interpretation
of verbs in different languages is essentially similar, whether or not
languages mark tense obligatorily. (2) There is no need to posit distinct
syntactic derivations to account for ambiguities in definite descriptions,
adverbs of quantification or scope of operators. (3) There is a close
correspondence between the semantic system and surface forms of natural
languages. Thus the picture that emerges from this kind of analysis is
one of greater unity and simplicity.
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