The sensitivity of natural language to the distinction between class nouns and role nouns

Sarah Zobel


This paper argues that language makes a distinction among individual count nouns between class nouns (e.g., man) and role nouns (e.g., judge). This is reflected in the effects of class nouns vs. role nouns in three positions: (i) the complement of as in restrictive role as-phrases, (ii) the descriptive content of definite descriptions in a certain type of logical argument, and (iii) the predicative expression in German copular clauses. To capture the sensitivity to this distinction formally, I introduce a domain of roles D_r and a type-shifting operator PLAY , which connects D_r to the domain of individuals D_e . Using these tools, I propose analyses of the contrasts arising in (i)–(iii) that account for the observed sensitivity to role nouns.

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