How to theorize about subjective meaning: A lesson from 'de re'
Pranav Anand, Natasha Korotkova
January 2021

Subjective language has attracted substantial attention in the recent literature in formal semantics and philosophy of language (see overviews in MacFarlane 2014; van Wijnbergen-Huitink 2016; Lasersohn 2017; Vardomskaya 2018; Zakkou 2019b). Most current theories argue that Subjective Predicates (SPs), which express matters of opinion, semantically differ from ordinary predicates, which express matters of fact. We will call this view “SP exceptionalism”. This paper addresses SP exceptionalism by scrutinizing the behavior of SPs in attitudes, which, as we will argue, significantly constrains the space of analytical options and rules out some of the existing theories. As first noticed by Stephenson (2007b,a), the most prominent reading of embedded SPs is one where they talk about the attitude holder’s subjective judgment. As is remarked sometimes (Sæbø 2009; Pearson 2013a), this reading is not the only one: embedded SPs may also talk about someone else’s, non-local, judgment. We concentrate specifically on such cases and show that non-local judgment is possible if and only of SPs are used outside main predicate position and the entire DP is read de re. We demonstrate that the behavior of SPs in attitudes does not differ from that of ordinary predicates: it follows from general constraints on intersective modification and intensional quantification (Farkas 1997; Musan 1997; Percus 2000; Keshet 2008). We argue that this unexceptional behavior of SPs in fact has unexpected consequences for SP exceptionalism. Precisely because SPs have been argued to be semantically different from ordinary predicates, not all theories correctly predict these less-studied data: some overgenerate (e.g. Stephenson 2007b,a; Stojanovic 2007; Sæbø 2009) and some undergenerate (e.g. Pearson 2013a). Out of the currently available theories, only relativist accounts (Lasersohn 2005; MacFarlane 2014; Coppock 2018) predict the right interpretation, and only that interpretation. We thus present a novel empirical argument for relativism, and, more generally, formulate a constraint that has to be taken into consideration by any view that advocates SP exceptionalism.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005361
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Linguistics and Philosophy (Accepted with minor revisions)
keywords: subjective language, predicates of personal taste, contextualism, relativism, attitudes, de re, semantic theory, semantics
previous versions: v1 [August 2020]
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