Speaker’s Referent and Semantic Referent in Interpretive Interaction


definite descriptions
speaker’s referent
semantic referent
conversational interaction


DOI: http://doi.org/10.26333/sts.xxxiv2.05

In this paper I argue that the notions of speaker’s reference and semantic reference—used by Kripke in order to counter the contentious consequences of Donnellan’s distinction between the referential use and the attributive use of definite descriptions—do not have any application in the interpretive interaction between speaker and hearer. Hearers are always concerned with speaker’s reference. Either, in cases of cooperation, as presented as such by the speaker or, in cases of conflict, as perceived as such by the hearer. Any claim as to semantic reference is irrelevant for the purposes of communication and conversation. To the extent that the purpose of semantic theory is to account for linguistic communication, there is no reason to take definite descriptions to have semantic reference.



Asher, N., Lascarides, A. (2013). Strategic Conversation. Semantics & Pragmatics, 6(0), 1–62.

Bontly, T. D. (2005). Conversational Implicature and the Referential Use of Descriptions. Philosophical Studies, 125(1), 1–25

Capone, A. (2011). The Attributive/Referential Distinction, Pragmatics, Modularity of Mind and Modularization. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 31(2), 153–186.

Devitt, M. (2007). Referential Descriptions and Conversational Implicatures. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 3(2), 7–32.

Donnellan, K. S. (1966). Reference and Definite Descriptions. The Philosophical Review, 75(3), 281–304.

Jaszczolt, K. M. (2005). Default Semantics: Foundations of a Compositional Theory of Acts of Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kaplan, D. (1977). Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics, and Epistemology of Demonstratives and Other Indexicals. In J. Almog, J. Perry, H. Wettstein (Eds.), Themes from Kaplan (pp. 481–563). New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kripke, S. (1977). Speaker’s Reference and Semantic Reference. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 2, 255–76.

Lee, J. J., Pinker, S. (2010). Rationales for Indirect Speech: The Theory of the Strategic Speaker. Psychological Review, 117(3), 785–807.

Marmor, A. (2008). The Pragmatics of Legal Language. Ratio Juris, 21(4), 423–452.

Moldovan, A. (2019). Descriptions and Tests for Polysemy. Axiomathes. doi:10.1007/s10516-019-09445-y

Russell, B. (1905). On Denoting. Mind, 14(56), 479–493.

Sainsbury, R. M. (2006). The Essence of Reference. In E. Lepore, B. C. Smith (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language (pp. 393–421). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Strawson, P. F. (1950). On Referring, Mind, 59(235), 320–344.

Strawson, P. F. (1954). A Reply to Mr. Sellars. The Philosophical Review, 63(2), 216–231.