Definite Possessives and Discourse Novelty


Standard wisdom holds that in order for a use of a definite description to be felicitous, its referent must be ‘familiar’, either because it was mentioned in previous discourse or because it is otherwise salient in the non-linguistic context. I show that a grammatically-defined class of demonstrably definite NPs containing definite possessors (e.g., that man’s daughter) are routinely able to describe novel (unfamiliar) entities. I propose to account for this systematic class of exceptions to the standard familiarity requirement by providing a refined notion of familiarity, one that determines when a use of a possessed NP as a whole will count as familiar based (in part) on whether its possessor phrase counts as familiar.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Barker1992DefinitePA, title={Definite Possessives and Discourse Novelty}, author={Chris Barker and David Dowty and Philip H. Miller and Gregory Ward}, year={1992} }