Fictional Names in Psychologistic Semantics

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Fictional names pose a difficult puzzle for semantics. How can we maintain that Frodo is a hobbit, while admitting that Frodo does not exist? To dissolve this paradox, I propose a way to formalize the interpretation of fiction as ‘prescriptions to imagine’ (Walton 1990) within a psychologistic semantic framework in the style of Kamp (1990). In the context of an information exchange, the interpretation of an assertion triggers a dynamic update of a belief component in the interpreter’s mental state, while in the context of a fictional narrative, a statement like Frodo is a hobbit triggers an update of an imagination component. In the computation of these updates, proper names – referential, empty, or fictional – are uniformly analyzed as presupposition triggers. The possibility of different attitude components in a single mental state sharing discourse referents and thereby referentially depending on each other ultimately allows us to account for the central paradox of fictional names and related puzzles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-45
Number of pages45
JournalTheoretical Linguistics
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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