I was reading the paper below, and because of my lack of knowledge on the linguistic terms, I have been stuck half way through. If you would be kind enough to enlighten me, I would be very much obliged. My take is 'existential force' points to, as it says, the phenomenon where the referent is in existence whereas 'universal force' points to the force that a free choice item has.

Incidentally, if you would also paraphrase the 'when it gets bound by an unselective operator' into lay person's terms I would also appreciate it.

[E]xamples like (10) indicate that weak definites have the force of the complement indefinite not only when the indefinite has existential force, but also when it gets bound by an unselective operator and acquires universal force:

(10) If the student of a linguist owns a donkey, he beats it.

A different solution comes to mind, namely, that the reason why weak definites have the interpretation we are interested in is because their interpretation gets 'anchored' to that of the NP that serves as complement of of, so that if that NP gets bound by an operator, these definites get bound by that operator as well.[[Weak Definites][1] by Massimo Poesio]

[1]: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwiqsJenzbPjAhUvyYsBHXRIDmwQFjABegQIABAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fjournals.linguisticsociety.org%2Fproceedings%2Findex.php%2FSALT%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F2465%2F2213&usg=AOvVaw0WebL6SH8Hw7Ba-J5hSa0O


This refers to the existential quantifier, "exists X", and universal quantifier, "for all x", respectively in first order logic, which quantifies formulas over the elements of a set, not to be confused with higher order logic, that quantifies formulas over classes of formulas. The donkey-beating sentences are the canonical example in this context in linguistics. Whether force has special meaning in this context I do not know.

In priniple, there exists an isomorphism between existential terms and universal terms. That means, there is an equivalence between "for all donkeys owned by x it is true that they get beat by x" is equivalent to "for all students who each own a donkey, it is true that they beat it".

  • Thanks, so in a nutshell, 'existential force' corresponds to ∃xP(x) whilst 'universal force' to ∀xP(x). Am I correct?
    – Sssamy
    Jul 15 '19 at 1:44
  • It does not seem to be a term of art, as far as I know, but I know very little. Did you follow the primary reference named in the intro (not Russel, the other one)? I have no idea what force could be derived from in the native language of the author, if that held any clue (I was just dealing with Latin fortis, hence the tangent). I suspect they might mean regime, domain (in my words, derived from regieren "command"; any verb may command a certain casus; Now I'd like to think certain constructions are prone for universal force, comparable to definiteness). I didn't read the article!
    – vectory
    Jul 17 '19 at 0:34
  • Reading through the article I'm now pretty sure the 'forces' are what makes sentences require 'existential reading' and 'universal reading.' And thanks for your help!
    – Sssamy
    Jul 19 '19 at 11:59

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