Patterns in the Semantics of Generic Sentences

  • Greg Carlson
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT, volume 75)


Generic and habitual sentences have a number of general properties that any analysis will need to give some account of. It is well-known that they tolerate exceptions. They are intensional in their semantics. They seem able to cover a wide notional range of generalizations (e.g. speak of habits, customs, propensities, abilities, etc.). Finally, and less often noted, their negation is unexpectedly strong, amounting to a near-total prohibition (for instance, if sheep don’t eat meat, virtually no sheep may do it). The analysis offered here attempts to provide an account of all these properties simultaneously. Generic and habitual sentences express a pattern of occurrences of events. Patterns are essentially constraints on sequences of events that constrain occurrences, with unconstrained occurrence amounting to chaotic (random) sequencing. Truth and falsity of generic sentences then depends on whether the pattern is exemplified by a subsequence of its events in a world. The exceptions, and the intensionality, result from the definition of what a pattern is.


Generic pattern habitual negation intensionality episodic chaos event exception constraint 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Greg Carlson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of RochesterUSA

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