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Yu Gu

PhD thesis

The Implication of Translation for Philosophy of Language: An Assessment of The Theory of Descriptions in Light of Empirical Data Drawn from English to Mandarin-Chinese Translation


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My research examines the implications for the philosophy of language of issues in translation.

My primary concern is with the translation of English determiner phrases into Mandarin Chinese, in particular the translation of definite descriptions (expressions of the form ‘the so-and-so’).

Proposed analyses of these expressions in philosophy and linguistics has polarised into a longstanding disagreement between those who construe definite descriptions as referential phrases and those who see them as quantificational phrases. Significant light can be cast on these debates by examining the translation of definite descriptions into Mandarin Chinese, a language that does not have a system of articles, definite or indefinite, as separate grammatical instruments.

It is common (including in some Chinese translations of key literature on the theory of descriptions) for the Chinese translations to translate the English definite descriptions as demonstrative determiner expressions. Demonstrative determiner expressions are standardly viewed as referential phrases not quantificational expressions. This therefore raises the question whether the Chinese translations of definite descriptions into demonstrative determiner phrases provides evidence in favour of a referential theory of descriptions.

I argue, however, that further data analysis reveals that this proposal is too hasty and, further, that the semantic profile of demonstrative determiner expressions in Chinese both challenges the orthodox interpretation of those expressions as inherently referential, and provides new grounds for a quantificational analysis of definite descriptions.

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