Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

Generalized polysemy. The case of proper names

    Katarzyna Kijania-Placek (Jagiellonian University)

13 March 2024  |  15:00  |  Seminari de Filosofia UB


Proper names are usually considered as devices of singular reference. Considered as wordtypes, however, they also exhibit other kinds of uses (Burge 1973, Fara 2015a,b, Jeshion 2015a,b, Elbourne 2005, Leckie 2013). I propose an account of proper names in terms of a generalized conception of polysemy, which I call rule-based systematic polysemy. The traditional theories of polysemy attempt to account for the multiplicity of stable senses for one linguistic unit, where the sense of a word determines its propositional contribution. Yet the insight that we may glean from the works of Kaplan (1989a,b) concerning the concept of linguistic meaning calls for a generalization of the understanding of the phenomena of polysemous meaning. According to Kaplan, expressions do not necessarily exhibit a meaning that provides content, i.e. propositional contribution, directly, but may instead rely on a rule that for the same word gives (possibly) different contents in different contexts. Combining the ideas of Kaplan with the traditional accounts of polysemy (Apresjan 1973; Pusteyovsky 1995; Pethö 2001), I will propose a two dimensional account of the latter that allows for connecting words not just with sets of stable senses, but also with sets of content generating rules (Kijania-Placek 2018, 2023). 

I intend to argue that the multiplicity of kinds of uses of proper names considered as word-types can be accounted for by the rule-based systematic polysemy, in which case we do not expect a set of stable senses determining concrete contents but rather a set of rules that generate contents in contexts. Basing the linguistic meaning of a name on a set of rules will allow for an explanation of both the productivity as well as the systematicity of their uses. Each proper name may thus be used to express a virtually unlimited number of contents but, due to the systematic nature of the underlying mechanisms, the contents are crosslinguistically uniform and predictive. A rules based approach to polysemy thus allows us to account for both its conventional and generative aspects (Recanati 2017).