Nina Haslinger (Göttingen)

What are we looking for? Disentangling extensionality, specificity and wide-scope individual quantification

Sentences like (*) can be true (a) if there is a particular book in the evaluation world that Anna is trying to find, but also (b) if Anna would be satisfied with any arbitrary book that has certain properties, without having a particular book in mind.

(*) Anna is looking for a book.

Research in cross-linguistic semantics has shown that several languages use verbal morphology, formal marking on the object, incorporation or other means to mark the distinction between type (a) and type (b) scenarios (see e.g. Deal 2008). We therefore know that natural language grammars permit at least two semantically distinct structures for intensional transitive predicates like 'look for'. The relevant semantic distinction is usually taken to involve the scope relation between the indefinite and a modal quantifier introduced by 'look for' (cf. Montague 1974 a.o.); many analyses further assume that 'a book' denotes a property in type (b) scenarios, but a quantifier over individuals in type (a) scenarios, following Zimmermann (1993).

However, many analyses of this pattern conflate extensionality (whether there is an actually existing book that Anna finds in each possible world in which her search is successful) with a certain notion of specificity (roughly, whether Anna's search criteria identify a unique individual in each world where her search is successful), raising the question which of these notions natural language grammars are sensitive to. In this talk, I try to address this question using data from German, which at first sight does not appear to have overt reflexes of the relevant distinction.

I argue for two descriptive claims: 1) The distinction between class (a) and class (b) scenarios does turn out to play a role in German grammar once we take semantic type distinctions between different classes of DPs into account (cf. also Moltmann 2008) and control for type/token ambiguities, which pre-theoretically seem to involve specificity contrasts, but are not reflected in the semantic type system. 2) Once we also control for the distinction between specificity (in the sense described above) and extensionality, the contrasts found in German turn out to be sensitive to the former, but not to the latter.

As a first step towards dissociating extensionality and specificity, I suggest that ordinary DPs generally range over a context-dependent set of partial individual concepts, rather than simple individuals (cf. Condoravdi et al. 2001, Schwager 2007, Schmitt 2019 a.o.). The upshot is that a DP may have an intensional reading whenever its base position is in the scope of an intensional operator. If it ends up outscoping that operator, the availability of an unspecific reading is affected, but the availability of an intensional reading is not. If so, intensionality has a more pervasive role in the grammar than a simple scope-based view might suggest, as argued independently by Geach (1967) and others. Time permitting, I conclude by discussing some consequences of this idea for Deal's (2008) view that intensional transitive predicates like 'look for' are universally decomposed into an extensional verb root and a modal operator.

Condoravdi, Cleo, Dick Crouch & Martin van den Berg. 2001. Counting Concepts. In: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Amsterdam Colloquium, 67-72.
Deal, Amy Rose (2008): Property-type objects and modal embedding. In: Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 12.
Geach, Peter T. (1967): Intentional identity. Journal of Philosophy 64(20), 627-632.
Moltmann, Friederike. 2008. Intensional verbs and their intentional objects. Natural Language Semantics 16. 239-270.
Montague, Richard. 1974. The Proper Treatment of Quantification in Ordinary English. In Richmond H. Thomason (ed.), Formal Philosophy. Selected Papers of Richard Montague, 247-270. New Haven/London: Yale University Press.
Schmitt, Viola. 2019. Intensional interveners in plural predication. Manuscript, University of Vienna.
Schwager, Magdalena. 2007. Bodyguards under Cover: the Status of Individual Concepts. In: Proceedings of SALT 17, 246-263.
Zimmermann, Thomas Ede. 1993. On the proper treatment of opacity in certain verbs. Natural Language Semantics 1. 149-179.