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Phrasal compounds can have adjectival heads: evidence from English


Phrasal compounds are taken to be word-level structures that combine a lexical head with a phrasal non-head. Several claims have emerged from the pertinent literature: phrasal compounds allegedly only have nominal heads, can host a variety of syntactic structures in non-head position, are determinative, and are instances of expressive morphology. The existence of adjectival phrasal compounds is either explicitly denied in the literature, or considered a marginal phenomenon at best. This article presents data from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA; Davies 2008) that show that adjectival phrasal compounds do exist in English. We demonstrate that they are similar to non-phrasal adjectival compounds and to nominal phrasal compounds. At the same time, they crucially differ from nominal compounds in the prototypical semantic relations between head and non-head: adjectival phrasal compounds are mostly similative-intensifying as opposed to determinative. We argue that this property is also found in noun–adjective compounds and follows naturally from the semantics of the head category in question, viz. adjectives as mostly gradable predicates. In turn, the majority of adjectival phrasal compounds in our data feature a strong expressive component, a characteristic they share with other phrasal compounds.

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