A superlative argument for a minimal theory of definiteness

Elizabeth Coppock, David Beaver


This paper concerns the interpretation of the definite article with superlatives on a relative interpretation. Previous work has suggested that definite superlative noun phrases like the fewest letters in Gloria received the fewest letters (relative superlative DPs) are semantically indefinite. This paper argues that such DPs are definite (presupposing uniqueness) but not determinate (denoting an individual). We provide new evidence that they are not determinate, and undertake a critical review of the evidence that has previously been used to argue for their indefiniteness, arguing that it is consistent with the hypothesis that they are definite. We argue furthermore that a movement analysis of relative superlatives is not consistent with a treatment of the determiner as definite. We therefore offer an analysis of relative superlative DPs on which they are definite but indeterminate, and the superlative morpheme is interpreted in situ.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/salt.v24i0.2432