Forms of Existential Binding and the Definiteness Effect

Ágnes Bende-Farkas and Hans Kamp
Section: Language
Level: Advanced


Our aim in this course is to present a DRT-based treatment of a wide spectrum of the uses which different languages make of indefinite noun phrases. Special attention will be given to cases of so-called "Definiteness Effect" constructions - constructions, which require the relevant NP to be indefinite.

We take as a starting-point Lewis' principle of "non-selective binding", according to which a quantifier may bind a number of different variables at once. A corollary of this principle is that indefinites are special, in that they may be bound or captured by external operators or other, extraneous elements (such as certain verbs).

In this course we will concentrate on the mechanisms responsible for this 'extraneous' binding, which allow the variable introduced by an indefinite to be bound by an operator realised elsewhere in the sentence, by other predicates, or by certain components of the context. This is the common motif behind a fairly wide spectrum of data we are going to analyse: from "specific'' indefinites (which introduce a discourse-novel individual that is nevertheless uniquely identified e.g. in the mind of the speaker), to cases of the so-called Definiteness Effect, and of Semantic Incorporation. In doing so, we intend to bring the by now extensive empirical investigations of such phenomena and the more theoretical explorations of extraneous binding together.

Course Outline

Session 1: (i) Introduction to an up-to-date version of DRT that permits explicit representation of presuppositions (see also van der Sandt (1992) and H. Kamp and Uwe Reyle's course during this summer school. (ii) Treatment within this framework of various uses of indefinites in English, Turkish, Romanian, especially specific and wide/intermediate scope indefinites.

Sessions 2 & 3: Discussion of a range of Definiteness Effect and incorporating constructions and related uses of indefinite NPs in various languages (English, Hungarian, Chinese, West Greenlandic), together with a review of extant proposals to account for them.

Sessions 4 & 5: Presentation of a formal analysis of the different uses of indefinites, and of Definiteness Effect cases discussed during the preceding sessions, using the framework outlined in the first session.


Formal semantics or logic (introductory level). Some familiarity with Dynamic Semantics or DRT, and some knowledge of the literature on presupposition would be useful, but not indispensable. Attendance of H. Kamp and U. Reyle's course on presuppositions during the first week can also be useful.



Ágnes Bende-Farkas
Hans Kamp
Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung
University of Stuttgart.
Azenbergstr. 12, D-70174 Stuttgart, Germany.
Fax:  (+49)-711-121-1366.