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  1. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #11

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    A brief note. If I say "The supermarket is closed" I have one particular store in mind.(I am probably unwilling to look around until I find one that's open, or I have reason to believe the others are closed too. (Or I just want a pizza. ))
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    #12

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Quote Originally Posted by Alexey86 View Post
    So, the whole discussion can be effectively boiled down to one simple question: what might be a good reason for using "the" in my example, if the book is unknown to the listener and non-unique? By "reason" I mean context forcing the speaker to use "the".
    Okay, that's fair enough.

    Can you remind me what the example was again? With the situational context you had in mind.

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    #13

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    Okay, that's fair enough. Can you remind me what the example was again? With the situational context you had in mind.
    Suppose I come to visit a friend of mine and say, "By the way, I've brought the book with me N gave me for my birthday." My friend wasn't aware of the book. The book is one of several N gave me. What might be the reason for using "the"?
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    #14

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    I'd say the fact that I can't think of one means that it's not a good example. But it doesn't mean there couldn't be one in principle.

    In principle, using the would mean that this book is the only one you're thinking about at that particular moment of utterance, not that this was the only book N gave you. I think that's the point I was making in the previous thread. The uniqueness principle doesn't require that a referent be ontologically unique (it doesn't have to be the only one in existence), only psychologically unique (the only one in mind at the moment of reference).

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    #15

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    The uniqueness principle doesn't require that a referent be ontologically unique (it doesn't have to be the only one in existence), only psychologically unique (the only one in mind at the moment of reference).
    I can hardly consider this a good reason. There are two forces in action here: subjective uniqueness and conversational courtesy, so to speak. By the latter I mean: if you can avoid confusing your interlocutor, then avoid it. I see no urgent need for prioritizing psychological uniqueness. Imagine that we are sitting at a table with many books on it. I'm thinking about one of the books of which you're unaware of, and then I say, "Jutfrank, give me the book please." What would be your reaction? Does the subjective uniqueness of the book justify using "the"?
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  6. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #16

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Yes, that's a good point that you make about conversational courtesy. We have a certain responsibility to make our references clear for the purposes of effective communication.

    You're absolutely right, of course. I'd say "Which one?"

    The difference between that and the previous example is that in the previous example it doesn't matter which one. It's clear to the listener which book is being referred to.

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    #17

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    The difference between that and the previous example is that in the previous example it doesn't matter which one. It's clear to the listener which book is being referred to.
    Do you mean it's clear because the listener can see it?
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  8. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #18

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Possibly.

    Look, I don't want to confuse you and I really don't want to mislead you. My main aim here, as always, is to help you get a better sense of how to use articles. I think we're getting to a point where what I'm saying isn't doing any good. The teacher in me just wants to give in and agree with everything you're saying about the 'the book N gave me' sentence, which is all very reasonable. You're thinking about this in a much more practical way than I am.

    Analytic philosophers and logicians alike have been puzzling over and arguing about reference for well over a hundred years. It has baffled even the greatest of minds, so I don't think I'm in a position to tell you how things truly are. I read quite a lot of philosophy of language and I can tell you that arguments over how words refer to things represent a very large share of the academic discourse. At this point in the discussion, I'm really just sharing my own personal insights. I hope you understand that.

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    #19

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I think we're getting to a point where what I'm saying isn't doing any good.
    Please, don't think that way. This is a difficult question I didn't have anyone to discuss and clarify with. I've learnt that the process of clarifying can be confusing sometimes. So, all you are saying is doing good.

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I'm really just sharing my own personal insights.
    And I'm happy with that.

    Now, I'd like to discuss whether the fact that the listener can see the object the speaker is talking about is enough for using "the" or not.

    Context 1:
    - Jurfrank, I'd like to show you something.
    - I'm intrigued.
    - (I take a book out of my bag and hold it in my hands. You can see it at this moment.) I've brought with me the book that N gave me for my birthday.
    (I've never mentioned it before. N gave me several books.)

    Context 2:
    - Jurfrank, I'd like to show you something.
    - I'm intrigued.
    - (I take a book out of my bag and hold it in my hands. You can see it at this moment.) I've brought the rare book with me. (I've never mentioned it before.)

    I think your ability to see the book in context 2 isn't enough for using "the" at all. Do you agree with that? If so, how could it be enough in context 1?
    Last edited by Alexey86; 01-May-2020 at 14:19.
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  10. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #20

    Re: I saw a blackbird vs I've read a book (reference and article usage)

    Context 1:

    Since the referent is immediately and visibly present, it is very easily identifiable. Therefore, a definite noun phrase is appropriate. The best determiner I can think of here is this. I've brought this book that N gave me. That's not to say that an indefinite NP is not also possible and natural. However, when I imagine the utterance, I've brought a book ..., I imagine that you are reaching into your bag at that moment and I can't physically see it yet. The use of an indefinite NP gives the referent a kind of 'openness'. Although you know that I know that the referent exists, you also know that I haven't seen it yet, and that I cannot properly identify it until you have whipped it out and I've laid eyes on it.

    I think that there's a complicating factor at play here, though. I think that the relative clause N gave me makes a difference in some way. What I mean is, there's a difference in this context between I've brought a book ... and I've brought a book N gave me. I'm having trouble explaining what this is exactly. I think it's because it seems to be on the one hand open and indefinite (a book) but on the other hand defined (that N gave me). If the relative clause were non-defining (, which N gave), there would be no problem. I think this is why I don't like this example very much.

    Context 2:

    I think the qualifier rare adds a sense of openness to the book's identity, so an indefinite article is very appropriate there. You could of course also use this, with a slightly different effect. I can't imagine any way that the could be used here.

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