The definite article of salience

The Mother Goose and Grimm strip of 12/3/15 (lots of stuff hangs around on my desktop for a really long time), depicting a canine guardian of the gates of dog heaven:

The definite article of uniqueness, here distinguishing a proper name St. Bernard (unique in some salient world for the user and their audience), the name of a specific saint, from a common noun St. Bernard (a type name), the name of a breed of dogs

Now it turns out that this usage can be employed to distinguish two proper nouns (according to their salience in a particular sociocultural context); and to distinguish two common nouns (picking out the salient type, rather than naming an individual). (Necessarily rather complex) examples follow.

(The phenomena are well known — but were brought to my mind by the MGG strip. Also: not being an actual semanticist, I make no attempt to locate these phenomena in a formal account.)

Two proper names. The dogs are named after the Alpine monk Saint Bernard of Menton; while the co- founder of the Knights Templar (and a major leader in the reformation of the Benedictine Order through the developing Cistercian Order) is St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who is venerated simply as Saint Bernard.

So that, for most Catholics, the Clairvaux St. Bernard will be distinguished from the Menton St. Bernard (and, no doubt, some host of other St. Bernards) as the St. Bernard; in this sociocultural world, the doggy saint is a St. Bernard, but he’s not the St. Bernard.

Two common nouns. Distinguishing a type name from an individual name.

Q: What’s the red-breasted black bird — the name of an individual — over there called?

A: That’ s the red-breasted blackbird — the name of the type.

A different red-breasted black bird might not be the red-breasted blackbird (which is a conventional everyday name for the species Sturnella militaris).

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