Meta-semantics of Quantifier Domain Restriction

 

When a speaker utters "Every student passed the exam," she typically doesn't mean to convey that every student in the universe passed the exam; rather, she normally has some more restricted meaning in mind — e.g. that every student in her class passed. This phenomenon is known as quantifier domain restriction. It is rather uncontroversial that the implicit restriction on the domain of quantification is somehow provided by the context of the utterance containing the quantifier phrase in question. Yet, how the context supplies the restrictor is a question less well explored. It is often simply assumed in the literature that this is a matter of speaker's intentions and/or non-linguistic contextual cues. By contrast, I argue for an account of domain restriction according to which the restrictor on the domain of quantification is determined through linguistic mechanisms — in particular, mechanisms of discourse and information structure. The resulting view, I argue, is superior to its competitors, and provides an account of certain otherwise puzzling behavior of quantifiers in natural language discourse.