'The best architect designed this church': Definite descriptions in default semantics

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Jaszczolt examines the default semantic analysis of 'the best architect designed this church', uttered when standing in front of El Temple de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. At first sight, Jaszczolt's conclusion that the cognitive default reading of the sentence is 'Antoni Gaudídesigned El Temple de la Sagrada Família, and the speaker believes him to be the best architect' looks right; but is it in fact an appropriate semantic analysis, even given Jaszczolt's pragmatics-rich approach? Our knowledge of what the particular speaker is likely to know is our only guide here. We will make different assumptions for the speaker who is a four-year-old child, George W. Bush, or a native of Barcelona (and so on). The same goes for the addressee: an adult addressing a four-year-old child will very likely follow up by identifying the architect. We only know whether speaker and hearer correctly identify the architect from the co-text, and this requires considerably more inferencing from contextual and encyclopaedic data than Jaszczolt allows. This paper criticizes some of the assumptions of Default Semantics and suggests some emendations to the theory, including additional machinery showing a mapping from the words uttered to the intended meaning in the case of 'the best architect designed this church'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-409
Number of pages21
JournalAustralian Journal of Linguistics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Common ground
  • Context
  • Default Semantics
  • Definite descriptions
  • Nonmonotonic inference
  • Pragmatic inference
  • Reference (direct and indirect)

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