Generic interpretation

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Generic interpretation is the interpretation of a noun phrase as referring to a kind, to all members of a kind, or to any typical representative.

Example

the italicized NPs in (i) are interpreted generically.

(i)  a  The cat is a domestic animal
     b  Cats are intelligent
     c  A cat loves to sleep

In the semantic literature, generic noun phrases are analyzed as names or definite descriptions of kinds or as a special kind of generic quantification over the members of a kind. Sentences with a generic interpretation express a generalization or a habit, a state which cannot be said to be true on one particular moment. Examples are (ii)a and b.

(ii) a	The sun rises in the East
     b	John usually eats pork for breakfast

In many languages, generic sentences are in the simple present tense or the imperfective aspect.

Link

Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics

References

  • Carlson, G. 1977. Reference to kinds in English, Ph.D. diss., University of Amherst.