Descriptions which have grown capital letters

Mind and Language 30 (3):292-319 (2015)
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Almost entirely ignored in the linguistic theorising on names and descriptions is a hybrid form of expression which, like definite descriptions, begin with 'the' but which, like proper names, are capitalised and seem to lack descriptive content. These are expressions such as the following, 'the Holy Roman Empire', 'the Mississippi River', or 'the Space Needle'. Such capitalised descriptions are ubiquitous in natural language, but to which linguistic categories do they belong? Are they simply proper names? Or are they definite descriptions with unique orthography? Or are they something else entirely? This paper assesses two obvious assimilation strategies: (i) assimilation to proper names and (ii) assimilation to definite descriptions. It is argued that both of these strategies face major difficulties. The primary goal is to lay the groundwork for a linguistic analysis of capitalised descriptions. Yet, the hope is that clearing the ground on capitalised descriptions may reveal useful insights for the on-going research into the semantics and syntax of their lower-case or 'the'-less relatives.

Author's Profile

Brian Rabern
University of Edinburgh


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