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Quantity Superlatives in Germanic, or “Life on the Fault Line Between Adjective and Determiner”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 April 2019

Elizabeth Coppock*
Boston University
Boston University, Linguistics Program, 621 Commonwealth Ave, Boston MA 02215, USA []


This paper concerns the superlative forms of the words many, much, few, and little, and their equivalents in German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dalecarlian, Icelandic, and Faroese. It demon-strates that every possible relationship between definiteness marking and interpretation is attested. It also demonstrates that different kinds of agreement mismatches are found under relative and proportional readings. One consistent pattern is that under a relative interpretation, quantity superlatives with adverbial morphology show neuter singular agreement even if the target noun is plural. In contrast, under a proportional interpretation, quantity superlatives always agree in number. This evidence is taken to show that quantity superlatives are not structurally analogous to quality superlatives such as tallest on either a relative or a proportional reading; however, depending on their interpretation, quantity superlatives depart from a plain attributive structure in different ways. On relative readings, they can have a structure akin to that of pseudo-partitives (as in two liters of milk), while on proportional readings, they tend to have a quantificational structure, sometimes involving a true partitive (as in some of the children). Furthermore, I suggest that the agreement features of a quantity superlative depend on the domain from which the target is drawn (the Target-Domain Hypothesis).

© Society for Germanic Linguistics 2019 

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