On the interpretation of (un)certain indefinites in Inuktitut and related languages

Date of Completion

January 2003


Language, Linguistics




The ultimate goal of this dissertation is to move closer toward a universal semantic analysis of indefinite descriptions, with the route being taken principally an examination of the scope-interpretational properties of indefinites in the related languages/dialects of Inuktitut and Kalaallisut (Eskimo-Aleut: Inuit), both of which are languages lacking (overt) indefinite articles. The general idea behind the dissertation is this: I take a highly constrained view of what an indefinite can denote (a property, unambiguously) and as to what quantificational force it has (none, unambiguously), and, with this, I investigate to what extent the semantic properties of indefinites in Inuktitut and Kalaallisut can be explained. I additionally adopt the idea, which has received increasing attention among linguists in recent years, that choice functions play a role in the interpretation of certain indefinites. Explicitly, I assume that indefinites may be freely combined with an indefinite article denoting a choice function, and that this choice function is left free, its interpretation being contextually determined (Kratzer (1998)). Though it is not obvious why choice functions in natural languages should be formulated in this manner, as there are logical alternatives---Reinhart (1995, 1997) and Winter (1997), for example, have argued for two---data from Inuktitut are considered, and it is shown that, of the choice function theories that have been recently proposed, only Kratzer's approach can easily accommodate the data presented. Moreover, I argue that there is only a single mechanism available by which an indefinite may be existentially closed at LF, fundamentally a generalised version of the semantic incorporation process of van Geenhoven (1995, 1998a), whereby the predicate contributed by an indefinite is absorbed by a lexical item α as the restriction of the argument introduced by α, the existential interpretation of which is lexicalised as part of α's meaning. ^