Most philosophers recognize that applying the standard semantics for complex demonstratives to non-deictic instances results in anomalous truth conditions, at best. This fact has generated little concern, however, since most philosophers treat non-deictic demonstratives as marginal cases, and believe that they should be treated using a distinct semantic mechanism. In this paper, I argue that non-deictic demonstratives cannot be written off ; they are widespread in English and foreign languages, and must be treated using the same semantic machinery that is applied to other instances.
Although non-deictic demonstratives—demonstratives that are not used to pick out an individual from the context of utterance—have received significant attention recently in the philosophical literature, existing semantic theories predict that they should be much more widely available than they in fact are. I present data that undermine the leading proposals, and I describe an alternative that is both empirically superior and theoretically attractive. On that alternative, complex demonstratives are a distinctive kind of definite description.
Recently, philosophers have offered compelling reasons to think that demonstratives are best represented as variables, sensitive not to the context of utterance, but to a variable assignment. Variablists typically explain familiar intuitions about demonstratives---intuitions that suggest that what is said by way of a demonstrative sentence varies systematically over contexts---by claiming that contexts initialize a particular assignment of values to variables. I argue that we do not need to link context and the assignment parameter in this way, and that we would do better not to.
Language loss and illocutionary silencing. (In preparation).
Most philosophers will likely agree that something valuable is lost when a language is. As far as I know, however, the question of what exactly that is has not been explored in any detail in the philosophical literature. Adapting a thread from the feminist philosophy of language, I will argue that language extinction involves a form of illocutionary silencing. Past and present speakers of dying languages risk losing a valuable ability: the ability to speak in the present and to posterity in their own voices.
Meta-meta-semantics. (In preparation with Eliot Michaelson.)