Seven types of specificity
The different types of specificity are characterized as follows: (i) Specificity in opaque contexts (referential specificity) expresses a contrast between a reading that allows existential entailment (1a) and a reading that does not (1b); (ii) scopal specificity (often also including type (i)) refers to the ability of certain indefinites to escape scope islands like the conditional in (2a), that a universal quantifier cannot escape (2b); (iii) epistemic specificity expresses the contrast between speaker’s knowledge (3a) and speaker’s ignorance (or indifference) (3b) about the referent of the indefinite;
- Paula believes that Bill talked to an important politician. (-> there is an important politician)
- Paula believes that Bill talked to an important politician. (but there is no important politician)
- If a friend of mine from Texas had died in the fire, I would have inherited a fortune. (possible reading: there is a friend of mine and…)
- If each friend of mine from Texas had died in the fire, I would have inherited a fortune. (not possible: for each of my friends, if one of them…)
- A student in Syntax 1 cheated in the exam. I know him: It is Jim Miller.
- A student in Syntax 1 cheated in the exam. But I do not know who it is.
(iv) specificity is sometimes associated with different types of familiarity such as d-linking, partitivity, and presuppositionality: the indefinite is part of an already introduced set, as in (4a), or not, as in (4b); (v) specificity is also related to topicality as in (5a), where the topical element can be understood as a specific expression.
- 50 students entered the room. I knew two girls.
- 50 students entered the room. They greeted two girls (already in the room).
- Some ghosts live in the pantry; others live in the kitchen.
- There are some ghosts in this house.
There are two further notions of specificity that concern the forward referential potential of indefinites: (vi) specificity as noteworthiness assumes that the presentative this in (6) signals that the speaker intends to assert a noteworthy property of the referent, as in (6a), while (6b) is reported to be infelicitous since no such property is mentioned. (vii) specificity as discourse prominence: refers to an aspect of discourse prominenc, namely “referential persistence” or “topic shift”, i.e. the potential of an indefinite to introduce a referent that iwill be mentioned again and may even become a topic in the subsequent discourse
- He put a/this 31 cent stamp on the envelope, and only realized later that it was worth a fortune because it was unperforated.
- He put a/#this 31 cent stamp on the envelope, so he must want it to go airmail.
- There was a king and the king had a daughter and he loved his daughter …
- There was a king and # the season was very short and hot …