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Compare Within and Between Groups: The Interpretation of Weak Generic Sentences

Zhiguo Xie
Published Online: 2016-02-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2016-0004

Abstract

This paper explicates the precise meaning of weak generic sentences of the form Ks are P, best represented by the Port Royal Puzzle sentence Dutchmen are good sailors. The sentence is true even though the majority of Dutchmen do not know how to sail at all and a fortiori do not sail well. Two observations motivate my analysis. One is that weak generic sentences express a property that “distinguishes the subject referent from other entities that might belong to the same category” (Krifka et al. 1995). This leads to the use of alternative set in my analysis. The other observation is that the scale structure of the predicate P affects the availability of weak generic reading for sentences of the form Ks are P. I argue that the interpretation of weak generic sentences involves: (i) partitioning the set of entities denoted by the bare plural subject based on the property denoted by the predicate P; (ii) partitioning the set of entities alternative to the denotation of the subject in a similar fashion; and (iii) comparing an appropriate partition in (i) to its counterpart in (ii) with respect to the predicate P. The Port Royal Puzzle sentence is true if and only if: those Dutchmen who can sail and who are good at sailing in comparison with the Dutch-internal standard of being good at sailing and those international citizens who can sail and who are good at sailing in comparison to the international standard of being good at sailing are such that the former population generally have better sailing skills than the latter population.

Keywords: weak generic sentences; comparison; partition

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About the article

Received: 2015-03-23

Accepted: 2015-01-13

Published Online: 2016-02-25


Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 2, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2016-0004.

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© 2016 Zhiguo Xie. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. BY-NC-ND 3.0

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