Topic: HUMAN SEMANTICS
On Aristotle and Baldness- Topic, Reference, Presupposition, and Negation
By Johan Brandtler
This paper is a contribution to the never settled debate on reference, negation and presupposition of existence in the linguistic/philosophical literature. Based on Swedish and English data, the discussion is an attempt to present a unified account of the opposing views put forward in the works of Aristotle, Frege (1892), Russell (1905) and Strawson (1950). The starting point is the observed asymmetry in Swedish (and English) that negation may precede a quantified subject NP in the first position, but not a definite subject NP or a proper name. This asymmetry is argued to be due to semantic, rather than syntactic, restrictions. In the model proposed here, negating a topic NP affects the “topic selection”. This is allowed with quantified NPs, since negating a quantifier leads only to a modification of the topic selection. For definite/generic subject NPs this cannot be allowed, since negating a definite NP equals cancelling the topic selection. This leads to a ‘crash’ at the semantic level.
keywords: negation, presupposition, reference, topic, aristotle, frege, russell, strawson, quantifiers, semantics
Published in: Working Papers in Scandinavian Syntax, volume 77 (2006), 177-204. Lund University, Sweden.
Posted by Tony Marmo at 18:32 BST