Donkey anaphora

From Glottopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Donkey anaphora is a type of anaphoric relation obtaining in a range of constructions that apparently preclude straightforward bound variable anaphora or coreference. In (i):

(i)  every farmer who owns a donkey beats it

the pronoun is interpretively dependent upon a donkey. However, coreference cannot obtain since a donkey does not have a single reference that might be shared by it, since a donkey is in the scope of the universal quantifier. But the pronoun also cannot be interpreted as a variable bound (i.e. a bound variable) by a donkey, since it is not in the scope of that expression. Two types of analyses have been proposed, both of which face various problems. E-type analyses (Cooper 1979, Evans 1977, Heim 1990) take the pronoun to function as a definite description which copies its descriptive content from the context (of utterance): "the unique donkey that x owns". Unselective binding analyses take the pronoun as a variable 'unselectively' bound (Lewis 1975) by every, resulting in a universal quantification over pairs, as in (ii).

(ii) All" <x,y> (x owns donkey y) (x beats y)

This approach, which requires a non-quantificational interpretation of indefinite NPs that function as donkey antecedents, has been implemented in Discourse Representation Theory (Kamp 1981, Heim 1982). Other well-known donkey-contexts are conditional clause type examples (iii)a and the relatively under-researched VP-conjunction examples (iii)b.

(iii) a	 if a man comes in here, he will trip the switch
      b	 every farmer owns some donkeys and feeds them at night


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics


  • Cooper, R. 1979. The interpretation of pronouns, in: F. Heny and H.S. Schnelle (eds.) Syntax and semantics 10: Selections from the Third Groningen Round Table, pp.61-92, Academic Press, New York etc.
  • Evans, G. 1977. Pronouns, quantifiers and relative clauses (I), The Canadian Journal of Philosophy 7-3, pp.467-536, Reprinted in: G. Evans (1985) Collected Papers, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp.76-152.
  • Geach, P. 1962. Reference and generality, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
  • Heim, I. 1982. The semantics of definite and indefinite noun phrases, diss. U. Mass., Amherst.
  • Heim, I. 1990. E-type pronouns and donkey anaphora, Linguistics and Philosophy 13, pp.137-177
  • Kamp, H. 1981. A theory of truth and semantic representation, in: J. Groenendijk et al. (eds.) (1984) Truth, Interpretation and Information, pp.1-41, Foris, Dordrecht
  • Lewis, D. 1975. Adverbs of quantification, in: E. Keenan (ed.) Formal semantics of natural language, pp.3-15, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Ruys, E. 1992. The scope of indefinites, diss. Utrecht University.