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11. Conclusion: pragmatic categories

 

        What I have said so far amount to the following: proper names have the same semantic type as common nouns and they belong to the same syntactic category. From the purely computational or strictly formal point of view there is thus no difference whatsoever between the two. Nevertheless, there are crosslinguistically frequent and consistent differences between the syntactic realization of nominal phrases with proper names and that of nominals with common nouns. Furthermore, native speakers (and theorists) seem to feel a deep distinction between the two types of phrases. I hope to have shown that the variance in the syntactic realization of nominal phrases depends on factors that are independent of the nature of the embedded noun. However, nominal phrases with differing overt material are certainly perceived as different by the speaker-listener, and based on this difference, particular connotations can be assigned pragmatically. Once particular syntactic structures are invested with conventionalized pragmatic connotations, the first step towards perceiving these structures as separate categories is taken. I thus raise the possibility that nominals with proper names and nominals with common nouns are distinct categories, albeit not on the syntactic-semantic but rather on the pragmatic level.

Pragmatic categories may feed back into the computational system: once a particular lexical item is consistently encountered in one particular type of construction, a speaker may certainly tend to use this lexical item only in similar types of construction, which – in turn – will trigger other discourse participants to do the same again. The use of nouns as “proper names” is thus the effect of reinforcement learning in which lexical items encountered in typical “name constructions” are channelled into typical “proper name environments” in future use. “Proper names” are thus the result of linguistic habit, and not of a featural distinction. Habits reinforce themselves and have been notorious for pretending to be “real” ever since David Hume reduced the cause-and-effect relationship to a mere habit of thinking.

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© Philipp Strazny 1998