The potato contains vitamin C and amino acids.

Alexey86

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I'd like to share with you several paragraphs from this article https://www.researchgate.net/public...f_English_L2_acquisition_of_generic_reference. I would really appreciate it if you would find time to read them and help me understand why the sentence in the title doesn't provide a kind-denoting meaning.

defin1.jpgdefin2.pngdefin3.jpgdefin4.pngdefin5.png

What is not clear to me is why The lion is dangerous can be a kind-denoting (or NP-level) generic sentence, while The potato contains vitamin C cannot. I understand that it's a general description of any potato, but isn't containing vitamin C and acids an inherent characteristic of the potato as a kind of plant (kind predicate) at the same time?

Please look also at these examples:
1. A ball is round.
2. A ball is a spherical object often used in games.
3. The ball is round.
4. The ball is a spherical object often used in games.

Can all four serve as appropriate general statements about balls? Can (3-4) be kind-denoting since they describe essential inherent properties of this kind of object?
 
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probus

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I think some context is needed to justify the use of the definite article in 3 and probably in 4 also. But all four statements are fine given appropriate context.
 

Alexey86

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I think some context is needed to justify the use of the definite article in 3 and probably in 4 also.

I was thinking about a teacher asking a child general questions about different things. What context do you think would be more appropriate?
 

probus

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That's fine for context. A teacher might ask young students "What can you tell me about the ball?" or "... about balls."
 

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That's fine for context. A teacher might ask young students "What can you tell me about the ball?" or "... about balls."

Or "...about a ball", right? Which one fits the context more? Or are they equally appropriate? And what do you think of the potato example? I see no difference between The lion is dangerous, The ball is round and The potato contains vitamin C in terms of kind-denoting reference.
 

probus

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"About a ball" is fine. I might have a slight preference for some of your choices depending on context. Re the scholarly article you posted: TLDR as the kids say nowadays: too long, didn't read.
 

Alexey86

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I might have a slight preference for some of your choices depending on context.

Would you elaborate on that please (if it's not TBTGID = too boring to go into details, of course:))?
 

probus

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Would you elaborate on that please (if it's not TBTGID = too boring to go into details, of course:))?

"kind-denoting (or NP-level) generic sentence, while The potato contains vitamin C cannot"

The only thing I am willing to add is that I see no reason why it cannot.
 

Alexey86

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The only thing I am willing to add is that I see no reason why it cannot.

I was asking about the ball examples. You said you might have a slight preference depending on context. What did you mean?
 

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"Balls are round" and "A ball is round" are both ways of expressing a simple fact. They don't refer to a specific ball. "The ball is round" would need to refer to a ball that has already been mentioned or, for example, one that is in a photo you're trying to describe.
 

Alexey86

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"Balls are round" and "A ball is round" are both ways of expressing a simple fact. They don't refer to a specific ball. "The ball is round" would need to refer to a ball that has already been mentioned or, for example, one that is in a photo you're trying to describe.

Why can't the ball be kind-denoting like the lion in The lion is dangerous?
 

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"Balls are round" and "A ball is round" are both ways of expressing a simple fact. They don't refer to a specific ball. "The ball is round" would need to refer to a ball that has already been mentioned or, for example, one that is in a photo you're trying to describe.
You could use ball as a "kind-denoting" term in the right context, though it's not very likely. Suppose a professor is discussing various thrown objects used in games. She might say "We've discussed the Frisbee, the dart, and the horseshoe. Now I'd like to consider one of the most common, the ball."
 

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What's wrong with the context I provided? Please look at J.M. Lawler's reply here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/000001.html. Professor Lawler uses some examples from his dissertation Studies in English Generics:

The madrigal is polyphonic.
(being polyphonic is characteristic of madrigrals)
Madrigals are polyphonic.
(being polyphonic is normal for madrigrals)
A madrigal is polyphonic.
(being polyphonic is required for madrigrals)


I see no difference between these and my ball examples:

The ball is round = being round is characteristic of balls.
A ball is round = being round is required for balls.


The only problem is that the exact difference in meaning is not clear to me.
 

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I'll answer your 'potato' question first.

The author is saying that A potato contains vitamin C and amino acids is preferred to The potato contains vitamin C and amino acids because the predicate is not a kind-predicate. So although the genericity works at NP level, it doesn't work (well, at least) at sentence level.

I suggest you follow John Lawler's useful language concerning the distinction of the three kinds of generic constructions. The predicate contains vitamin c and amino acids is 'definitional', which is why the indefinite singular is preferred. We generally reserve definite singulars for prototypical characterisations.
 

Alexey86

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The predicate contains vitamin c and amino acids is 'definitional', which is why the indefinite singular is preferred. We generally reserve definite singulars for prototypical characterisations.

Here are examples of definitions/generalizations with definite singulars:
a) The lion is a well-muscled cat with a long body, large head, and short legs. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
b) The tiger has no mane, but in old males the hair on the cheeks is rather long and spreading. (Wikipedia)
c) The potato is a root vegetable native to the Americas. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Why is c), a clear definition, OK, while the definitional OP variant isn't?
I see no difference between has no mane and contains vitamin C in terms of their definitional nature. Are they definitional or descriptional, by the way? A typical definition looks like NP is NP, not like NP does/has NP.

 
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jutfrank

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Why is c), a clear definition, OK, while the definitional OP variant isn't?

I wouldn't say it's not okay. Don't lose sleep over this. I personally don't think the 'potato' examples are very illustrative. Use the 'tiger' examples instead.

I see no difference between has no mane and contains vitamin C in terms of their definitional nature.

There is an important difference between them. The predicate has no mane concerns the prototypic image of tigerness and so works well with definite NPs. You can't say there's a similar relation between containing vitamin C and potatoness.

Are they definitional or descriptional, by the way? A typical definition looks like NP is NP, not like NP does/has NP.

I don't consider containing vitamin C as definitional (though you can call it descriptional, if you like) whereas having no mane is.

Don't get too distracted by is/has. A tiger has four legs is clearly definitional, equivalent to A tiger is a four-legged animal. Certain properties are definitional, which is why the verb have is fine in such cases.
 

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I don't consider containing vitamin C as definitional

It can be considered part of the definition: a root vegetable containing vitamin C.

The predicate has no mane concerns the prototypic image of tigerness and so works well with definite NPs. You can't say there's a similar relation between containing vitamin C and potatoness.

Both characteristics are essential and inherent to their objects. Both are parts of the definitions. How do you distinguish kind-denoting characteristics from essential but non-prototypical ones?

If it's a predicate that makes a sentence kind-denoting, are the following sentences equally kind-denoting:

a) The tiger has no mane.
b) A tiger has no mane.


Is there any difference in terms of kind/non-kind reference between these:
c) The tiger hunts during the daytime.
d) A tiger hunts during the daytime.
e) The potato contains vitamin C.
f) A potato contains vitamin C.


If we look into Wikipedia, we'll see that animals and plants are always defined as kinds (The lion/potato is..), while inanimate physical objects as instances of kinds (A ball is...). Why is it so?

Sorry, I'm just filled with questions.
 
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Tdol

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We could use an easy and natural form that would avoid the issue:

Potatoes contain vitamin C and amino acids.
 

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It can be considered part of the definition: a root vegetable containing vitamin C.
I don't agree. Why do you think that containing vitamin C is important to the definition? Vitamin C is something that cannot be seen, smelt, or tasted. Think of definition as something that helps people pick out things in the world from other things.

Both characteristics are essential and inherent to their objects. Both are parts of the definitions. How do you distinguish kind-denoting characteristics from essential but non-prototypical ones?

If we're talking about physical objects, I'd say mainly by the form. The way we conceive of things seems to have a great deal to do with the visual structures in our minds. And also largely by function, or what we can do with the object or what it can do to us. Vitamins have no form. In fact, they're essentially undetectable.

If it's a predicate that makes a sentence kind-denoting, are the following sentences equally kind-denoting:

a) The tiger has no mane.
b) A tiger has no mane.
I'd say that they could be, yes. Especially if they're meant to be distinctive. Is that a lion or a tiger over there? It can't be a tiger because a tiger has no mane.

Is there any difference in terms of kind/non-kind reference between these:
c) The tiger hunts during the daytime.
d) A tiger hunts during the daytime.
e) The potato contains vitamin C.
f) A potato contains vitamin C.
Perhaps you could answer this first. I'll be happy to comment on your ideas.

If we look into Wikipedia, we'll see that animals and plants are always defined as kinds (The lion/potato is..), while inanimate physical objects as instances of kinds (A ball is...). Why is it so?

I'd probably need several thousand words to attempt to answer that one! The shortest possible answer I can give is this: Animals and plants are excellent examples of kinds because they're absolutely crucial to the way we have interfaced with and organised the world for hundreds of thousands of years.

There's a huge volume of literature in philosophy concerning kinds. I don't know if you've read any of it but you can get an overview of the traditional ways people have thought about this topic here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-kinds/
 

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I don't agree. Why do you think that containing vitamin C is important to the definition? Vitamin C is something that cannot be seen, smelt, or tasted.

If we exclude that property, the potato will no longer be the potato, it will become something else. Hence, to contain vitamin C is important. Moreover, for a property to be kind-denoting or/and essential, it does not have to be sensually perceived or even material. Look at these definitions:
a) The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol e− or β−, whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge.
b) The mind is the set of faculties responsible for mental phenomena.

We can't see, smell or taste an electron or its charge. And the mind is just non-material.

Vitamins have no form. In fact, they're essentially undetectable.

Actually, it is detectable and measurable since it's an acid (material substance). But that doesn't matter (see above).

Perhaps you could answer this first. I'll be happy to comment on your ideas.

I think it's important to make the following distinctions:
1. Not all properties are essential. Essential properties are those that make an object what it is, that are part of its nature.
2. All essential properties are kind-denoting, but not vice versa:
The dodo is a flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius. (essential and kind-denoting)
The dodo is an extinct bird. (kind-denoting but not essential, that is being extinct is not part of the dodo's nature)
3. Not every kind-denoting property can be applied to an element of a kind/class (to be extinct) or to every element (Ducks lay eggs. => only female ones do)
4. When a kind-denoting property is essential and can be applied to an element of a class, a definition/description like a + noun + is/does/has can be considered kind-denoting.

Given all that, I would say all four examples are equally essential and kind-denoting characteristics.

There's a huge volume of literature in philosophy concerning kinds. I don't know if you've read any of it but you can get an overview of the traditional ways people have thought about this topic here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-kinds/

Thank you for the link. I'm reading this one now: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/generics/#GeneLogiForm
Frankly, it arises more questions than it answers.
 
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