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2. Names: de re vs. de dicto  


The insistence on using discourse representations to identify meanings without any recourse to the ‘real world’ is not just an attempt to dodge epistemological problems, but has some – I believe – welcome consequences for the evaluation of proper names. One question that may immediately come to mind is how typical instances of de re vs. de dicto readings may be explained, if the real world is not accessible to yield a de re referent? Consider the following example (from Lerner/Zimmermann 1991, henceforth L/Z):

  (1)        (a)  Monika believes that Werner broke his foot.

               (b) Werner is identical to Erwin.

               (c) Monika does not believe that Erwin broke his foot.

In the de dicto reading, the interpretation of Werner and Erwin are taken to be interpreted within the scope of the propositional attitude verb (PAV) believe. The denotation of both Werner and Erwin may thus be determined within a belief-context. If (1b) is not part of the same belief-context, (1a) and (1c) are not contradictory.

        The de re reading in a realist model interprets both occurrences of proper names against ‘reality’ as backdrop. Since (1b) is ‘part of reality’, (1a) and (1c) have to be regarded as contradictory. L/Z propose to incorporate an access relation into the definition of de re interpretations of propositional attitude contexts. This access relation is supposed to hold between the subject of the propositional attitude verb and an object within the scope of the PAV. Thus, (the actual) Monika has access to (the actual) Werner via two names, and – if independent from each other - these access relations allow independent beliefs that may differ without causing a contradiction.

        In essence, I agree with L/Zs position. However, the whole problem complex only arises in a realist model. I believe that a non-realist interpretation of discourse representations that takes the inescapability of discourse into account yields a solution that is even more straightforward.

        In a strictly text centered analysis, neither an ‘actual Monika’ nor an ‘actual Werner/Erwin’ are relevant. Both Monika and Werner/Erwin are discourse referents mentioned in the exchange between the authors L/Z and the readers (us). Thus, in the notation used by Heim (1981), the relevant discourse representation shared by L/Z and the reader is the following:



        There are thus two discourse referents x and y;  x has one name, y has two. Inhowfar the two discourse referents have a relation to actual people in the real world is completely irrelevant. Sentence (1b) is a communication between L/Z and the reader and is thus reflected in the fact that Werner and Erwin are conflated in one discourse referent. Sentences (1a) and (1c) add to the above picture in that the discourse referent x, i.e. Monika is supplied with her own subdomain of D, as shown below:    


 The readers are told that the discourse referent Monika has beliefs, i.e. it must have access to a discourse domain,which is – in this case – a subdomain of D (the domain shared by L/Z and the reader), since D contains all information about this domain. This subdomain of D contains two further discourse referents, one of them Werner, the other Erwin.

L/Z formulate a pragmatic constraint on name usage in communication between cooperative speakers:

(4)        Don’t name the same thing in different ways within the same context!

 This constraint is at work in the communicative framework between L/Z and the reader: even though L/Z never make it explicit, they obviously assume that the discourse referents in DMonika are identical in reference to the discourse referent y in DL/Z. However, this may be so, or it may not. The important point is that the linguistically relevant items are discourse referents (as opposed to ‘people’), and in the case at hand, there are four of them now: X/Monika, Y/Werner/Erwin, U/Werner, and V/Erwin.

        The sentences (1a) and (1b) occur within the communicative framework DL/Z. The items Werner and Erwin occur within the scope of Monika believe, i.e. they are element of DMonika, and since DMonika ' DL/Z, they are accessible for interpetive purposes. An occurrence of e.g. Werner thus allows to be interpreted within DMonika or within DL/Z. The first yields the de dicto interpretation, the second one the so-called de re interpretation, which simply means that discourse participants sharing DL/Z follow constraint (4) and conflate e.g. Werner (' DL/Z) with Werner (' DMonika).

        Notice that dicourse representation theory allows to capture the difference between de dicto and de re interpretation without recourse to either realist assumptions (in the case of de re) nor to substitutions of definite descriptions for names (the Russellian treatment of de dicto cases). The difference interpretation is merely on of difference in context, i.e. the (sub)domains of discourse used for interpretation. Such subdomains can be freely defined as being associated with a particular discourse referent (as in 3), or the main discourse domain can be subdivided itself. This would be the case when fictional discourse referents are used, e.g. Miss Marple:

(5)        Miss Marple outsmarts the villain.

In (5), the subdomain D: Miss Marple stories is supplied pragmatically, provided the listener knows that Miss Marple is a fictional character or can infer this fact from the use of the villain. Of course, the subdomain can also be introduced overtly, e.g. with introducing phrases such as In Agatha Christie’s novels....

        In discourse representation theory, typical realist issues – e.g. whether or not a name refers to a fictional character or whether or not the referent of a name is “properly” identifiable for a particular discourse participant – become unproblematic and straightforward to represent. With Heim, I assume that “logical forms are not assigned truth conditions, only [discourse representations] are” (1981: 9a). Under this assumption, realist implications become important in the evaluation of discourse representations, but are completely removed from the strictly linguistic level. This is, of course, a welcome result, since language – as a computational system – handles e.g. names of “fictional characters” just as well and in exactly the same manner as names of “real people”.    

With the backing of discourse representation theory, I will thus ignore the more philosophically relevant issues of reference and concentrate on the strictly linguistic characteristics of proper names. Three problem complexes have to be dealt with here:

(A)  type assignment, semantic (individual vs. set) and syntactic (N vs. DP)

(B)   semantic function (indefinite vs. definite)

(C)   syntactic distribution

These problem complexes are, of course, interdependent: semantic types are the basis for determining the semantic function; under the assumption that syntax encodes semantic structure, semantic functionality should find expression in the syntactic distribution; syntactic distribution is based on syntactic type, which again should be compatible with semantic type assignment. In my inquiry, I will start with the issue of semantic type and roughly follow the circular path described above in order to finally come to compatible assessments of the semantic and syntactic structure of proper names.

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© Philipp Strazny 1998