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Predication and identity in copular sentences

WOODARD, ANDREW (2018) Predication and identity in copular sentences. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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There are different types of copular sentence. \textit{Cicero is tall} does not mean the same thing as \textit{Cicero is Tully}. The former is typically called a predication and the latter an identity. But where does this difference come from (and the difference between these sentences and \textit{Cicero is a Roman statesman}, \textit{This is Cicero}, and \textit{The culprit was Cicero} for that matter)? This thesis is an attempt to bring the combined forces of modern linguistics and philosophy together to understand how we make meaningfully distinct sentences. It is useful to focus on copular sentences for this task because they are the minimally-sized sentences in many of the world's languages. A debate in linguistics has persisted for some years about the status of sentences like \textit{The culprit was Cicero}, in particular, in terms of whether they should be aligned with predications or identities. The linguistic evidence points in different directions. I think there are conceptual clarifications that could elucidate the terms of this debate.

I start by investigating the obvious logical starting point: logic. Can copular sentences really be exhaustively specified as logical predications or identities in the first place? What about syntax? Does it have a problem-free definition of predication that might serve as a way of distinguishing meanings? I answer in the negative in both cases. From there the copula itself is studied, and I argue that it isn't any kind of real lexical verb that can be semantically ambiguous (like the verb \textit{bank} can in \textit{I'm going down a driveway banked by boulders and wildflowers} vs.\ \textit{I banked the cheque then went for lunch}). I then give some examples of the sort of thing linguists have shown copulas actually can do. I argue that distinguishing copular sentence meanings is not something that can be truly \textit{explained} in logical or syntactic terms; the best we can hope for is to \textit{describe} the different uses of the biological capacity for language, to talk of `functions' of copular sentences and their components. I argue for an approach to a full description of copular sentences that is based mainly on use and information structure properties of the flankers of the copula. Different permutations of these give rise to different sentence types, and thus to a more pluralistic copular taxonomy. Syntax has a foundational role, but it does not serve to discriminate copular sentence meanings. Copular sentences are argued to be \textit{uniformly} syntactic predications.

Overall, then, I argue that the taxonomy of copular sentences cannot be explained in terms of logical predication or logical identity. Rather, we can describe (not explain) the distinct meaning types of copular sentences in terms of the number of different licit permutations of flanker properties, where these are mainly use and information structure properties.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:predication; identity; copular sentence; copula; linguistic function; information structure
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:29 Nov 2018 09:59

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