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The development of intensification scales in noun-intensifying uses of adjectives: sources, paths and mechanisms of change1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2011

Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven, Blijde Inkomststraat 21 PO Box 3308, 3000 Leuven,,
Department of Linguistics, University of Leuven, Blijde Inkomststraat 21 PO Box 3308, 3000 Leuven,,


This article is concerned with the sources, paths and mechanisms of change leading to noun-intensifying uses of adjectives, such as a complete mess, a whole bunch of crazy stuff, a particular threat. Such intensifying uses may develop from property-describing uses of adjectives, as discussed by Traugott (1989), Adamson (2000) and Paradis (2000, 2001, 2008). As pointed out by Bolinger (1972: 61), noun-intensifying uses may also develop from elements of the NP that have identifying functions, which can be either quantifying-identifying or identifying in the strict sense. The aim of this article is to provide a new synthesis of how these three pathways lead towards noun-intensifying meanings, focusing on the question of how the intensification scales necessary to these uses are acquired. We posit that the concepts of open and closed intensification scales (Kennedy & McNally 2005) can generalize over the intensifying uses from the three sources. The main mechanism of change is the foregrounding of the gradability mode (Paradis 2000), quantification scale or other implied scale of the immediate source uses. The initial shift takes place in collocational environments that overlap with those of the source uses. Due to later collocational extension, noun-intensifying uses may come to incorporate intensification scales unpredicted by their sources.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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