Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Evaluativity across adjective and construction types: An experimental study

  • ADRIAN BRASOVEANU (a1) and JESSICA RETT (a2)
Abstract

An adjectival construction is evaluative if and only if it conveys that the property associated with the adjective exceeds a relevant threshold. The questions of which adjectival constructions are evaluative and why have formed the foundation for semantic theories of these constructions and of adjectives themselves (Klein 1980, von Stechow 1984), although it has been alleged that these theories are based on an incomplete picture of the phenomenon of evaluativity (Bierwisch 1989, Rett 2008a). We present the first experimental tests of the scope and nature of evaluativity across adjectival constructions and adjective types. These studies confirm that evaluativity is conditioned by adjective type (relative or absolute, Kennedy & McNally 2005) and is not restricted to the positive construction. However, they also show several new and surprising aspects of evaluativity: that it is perhaps better characterized as a gradable property than a binary one; that the ways in which relative and absolute adjectives differ in their evaluativity vary across construction; and that, contrary to standard intuitions, subjects are willing to attribute evaluativity to the subject position of comparative constructions like Sue is taller than Bill. We show that this last particularly surprising result reveals a lot about how subjects interpret contextually sensitive constructions, and we discuss its consequences for experimental studies and semantic theories of adjectival evaluativity as well as context-sensitive phenomena more generally.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Author’s address: University of California, Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA abrsvn@gmail.com, abrsvn@ucsc.edu
Author’s address: University of California, 3103L Campbell Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA rett@ucla.edu
Footnotes
Hide All
[1]

We thank three anonymous Journal of Linguistics reviewers for their comments, as well as Sam Cumming, Donka Farkas, Chris Kennedy, Megan Moodie, Floris Van Vugt, Kaeli Ward, and Lauren Winans for discussion and advice. The usual disclaimers apply.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Armstrong, S., Gleitman, L. R. & Gleitman, H.. 1983. What some concepts might not be. Cognition 13, 263308.
Bale, Alan. 2008. A universal scale of comparison. Linguistics and Philosophy 31, 155.
Barker, Chris. 2002. The dynamics of vagueness. Linguistics and Philosophy 25, 136.
Barner, David & Snedeker, Jesse. 2008. Compositionality and statistics in adjective acquisition: 4-year-olds interpret tall and short based on the size distributions of novel noun referents. Child Development 79, 594608.
Bartsch, Renate & Vennemann, Theo. 1972. The grammar of relative adjectives and comparison. Linguistische Berichte 20, 1932.
Bierwisch, Manfred. 1989. The semantics of gradation. In Bierwisch, M. & Lang, E. (eds.), Dimensional adjectives: Grammatical structure and conceptual interpretation, 71237. Springer.
Bochnak, M. Ryan & Bogal-Allbritten, Elizabeth. 2014. Investigating gradable predicates, comparison, and degree constructions in underrepresented languages. In Bochnak, M. Ryan & Matthewson, Lisa (eds.), Methodologies in semantic fieldwork. Oxford University Press.
Bogal-Allbritten, Elizabeth. 2013. Decomposing notions of adjectival transitivity in Navajo. Natural Language & Semantics 21, 277314.
Bogal-Allbritten, Elizabeth. 2015. Slightly coerced: Processing evidence for adjectival coercion by minimizers. Proceedings of the 48th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (CLS 48): Parasession on Meaning and Cognition. Chicago: CLS Publications, http://blogs.umass.edu/eba/files/2011/08/Bogal-Allbritten-CLS-48.pdf.
Breakstone, Micha. 2012. In Aguilar, Ana, Chernilovskaya, Anna & Nouwen, Rick (eds.), Inherent evaluativity (Proceedings of sinn und bedeutung 16), MITWPL.
Burnett, Heather. 2012. The grammar of tolerance: On vagueness, context-sensitivity, and the origin of scale structure. Ph.D. thesis, University of California.
Cappelen, Herman & Lepore, Ernest. 2005. Insensitive semantics. Wiley-Blackwell.
Christensen, Rune Haubo Bojesen. 2012. ordinal – regression models for ordinal data. R package version 2012.09-11, http://www.cran.r-project.org/package=ordinal/.
Clark, Herbert. 1969a. Influence of language on solving three-term series problems. Journal of Experimental Psychology 82, 205215.
Clark, Herbert. 1969b. Linguistic processes in deductive reasoning. Psychological Review 76, 387404.
Clark, Herbert. 1972. Difficulties people have answering the question, ‘Where is it?’ Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 11, 265277.
Cobreros, Pablo, Égré, Paul, Ripley, David & van Rooij, Robert. 2012. Tolerant, classical, strict. Journal of Logic 41, 347385.
Cresswell, Max. 1976. The semantics of degree. In Partee, B. (ed.), Montague grammar. Academic Press.
Cruse, D. Alan. 1976. Three classes of antonyms in English. Lingua 38, 281292.
Cruse, D. Alan. 1980. Antonyms and gradable complementaries. In Kastovsky, D. (ed.), Perspektiven der lexikalischen semantik: Beiträge zum wuppertaler semantikkolloquium vom 2Ű3, Dec. 1977, 1425. Bouvier.
Cruse, D. Alan. 1986. Lexical semantics. Cambridge University Press.
Cummins, Chris & Katsos, Napoleon. 2010. Comparative and superlative quantifiers: Pragmatic effects of comparison type. Journal of Semantics 27, 271305.
Doetjes, Jenny, Constantinescu, Camelia & Součková, Kateřina. 2009. A neo-Kleinian approach to comparatives. In Satoshi Ito, Ed Cormany & Lutz, David (eds.), Proceedings of SALT XIX, 124141. CLC Publications.
Doetjes, Jenny, Guevara, A., Chernilovskaya, A. & Nouwen, R.. 2012. On the (in)compatibility of non neutral adjectives and measure phrases. Proceedings of SUB 16. MITWPL.
Donaldson, Margaret. 1963. A study of children’s thinking. Tavistock.
Doran, R., Baker, R., McNabb, Y., Larson, M. & Ward, G.. 2009. On the non-unified nature of scalar implicature: An empirical investigation. International Review of Pragmatics 1, 211248.
Flores D’Arcais, Giovanni  B. 1970. Linguistic structure and focus of comparison in processing of comparative sentences. In Flores D’Arcais, G. B. & Levelt, W. J. M. (eds.), Advances in psycholinguistics. North-Holland.
Grano, Thomas. 2012. Mandarin henand universal markedness in gradable adjectives. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 30, 513565.
Hansen, Nat & Chemla, Emmanuel. 2013. Experimenting on contextualism. Mind and Language 28, 286321.
Haspelmath, Martin & Buchholz, Oda. 1998. Equative and similative constructions in the languages of Europe. In van der Auwera, Johan (ed.), Adverbial constructions in the languages of Europe, 277334. Mouton de Gruyter.
Hellan, Lars. 1981. Towards an integrated analysis of comparatives. Tübingen: Narr.
Higgins, E. Tory. 1977. The varying presuppositional nature of comparatives. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 6, 203222.
Horn, Larry. 1972. On the semantic properties of the logical operators in English. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California.
Kamp, Hans. 1975. Two theories of adjectives. In Keenan, E. (ed.), Formal semantics of natural language, 123155. Cambridge University Press.
Kamp, Hans. 1981. The paradox of the heap. In Mönnich, U. (ed.), Aspects of philosophical logic. Reidel.
Kamp, Hans & Rossdeutscher, Antje. 1994. Drs-construction and lexically driven inferences. Theoretical linguistics 20, 165235.
Kennedy, Chris & Levin, Beth. 2008. Measure of change: The adjectival core of degree achievements. In McNally, Louise & Kennedy, Christopher (eds.), Adjectives and adverbs: Syntax, semantics and discourse. Oxford University Press.
Kennedy, Chris & McNally, Louise. 2005. Scale structure, degree modification and the semantic typology of gradable predicates. Language 81.2, 345381.
Kennedy, Christopher. 1999. Projecting the adjective: The syntax and semantics of gradability and comparison. Garland Press.
Kennedy, Christopher. 2007. Vagueness and grammar: The semantics of relative and absolute gradable predicates. Linguistics and Philosophy 30, 145.
Kennedy, Christopher. 2009. Modes of comparison. CLS 43 Proceedings, 141165. Chicago.
Kim, Christina, Xiang, Ming & Kennedy, Chris. 2013. Context dependence and shiftability in two classes of gradable adjectives. Utrecht: XPrag poster.
Klein, Ewan. 1980. A semantics for positive and comparative adjectives. Linguistics and Philosophy 4, 145.
Klein, Ewan. 1982. The interpretation of adjectival comparatives. The Journal of Linguistics 18, 113136.
Kubota, Yusuke & Matsui, Ai. 2010. Modes of comparison and Question under Discussion: Evidence from ‘contrastive comparison’ in Japanese. In Li, Nan & Lutz, David (eds.), Proceedings of SALT 20, 5775. CLC Publications.
Lehrer, Adrienne. 1985. Markedness and antonymy. Journal of Linguistics 21, 397429.
McNabb, Y. 2012. Standard fixing and context manipulation: An experimental investigation of degree modification. In Aguilar-Guevara, Ana, Chernilovskaya, Anna & Nouwen, Rick (eds.), Proceedings of sinn und bedeutung, vol. 16. MITWPL.
McNally, Louise. 2011. The relative role of property type and scale structure in explaining the behavior of gradable adjectives. (Lecture Notes in Computer Science 6517), 151168. Springer.
Morzycki, Marcin. 2009. Degree modification of gradable nouns: Size adjectives and adnominal degree morphemes. Natural Language & Semantics 17, 175207.
Morzycki, Marcin. 2012. Adjectival extremeness: Degree modification and contextually restricted scales. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 30, 567609.
Neeleman, Ad, van de Koot, Hans & Doetjes, Jenny. 2004. Degree expressions. The Linguistic Review 21, 166.
Paradis, Carita. 2001. Adjectives and boundedness. Cognitive Linguistics 12.1, 4765.
Paradis, Carita & Willners, Caroline. 2006. Antonymy and negation – the boundedness hypothesis. Journal of Pragmatics 38, 10511080.
Piaget, J. 1928. Judgment and reasoning in the child. Paul Kegan.
Pinkal, Manfred. 1989. Imprecise concepts and quantification. In Bartsch, R., van Benthem, J. & van Emde Boas, P. (eds.), Semantics and contextual expression, 221265. Foris.
Potts, Christopher. 2012. Conventional implicature and expressive content. In Maienborn, C., von Heusinger, K. & Portner, P. (eds.), Semantics: An international handbook of natural language meaning, vol. 3, 25162536. Mouton de Gruyter.
R Core Team. 2013. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing Vienna, Austria. http://www.R-project.org/.
Rett, Jessica. 2008a. Antonymy and evaluativity. In Gibson, Masayuki & Friedman, Tova (eds.), Proceedings of SALT XVII. CLC Publications.
Rett, Jessica. 2008b. Degree modification in natural language. Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University.
Rett, Jessica. 2014. Measure phrase equatives and modified numerals. Journal of Semantics, Online first, doi:10.1093/jos/ffu004. Published 2015, volume 32 (3), pages 425–475.
Rett, Jessica. 2015. The semantics of evaluativity. Oxford University Press.
van Rooij, Robert. 2008. Comparatives and quantifiers. In Bonami, O. & Cabredo Hofherr, P. (eds.), Empirical issues in formal syntax and semantics, vol. 7, 423444. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).
van Rooij, Robert. 2011. Implicit versus explicit comparatives. In Egré, Paul & Klinedinst, Nathan (eds.), Vagueness and language use,  vol. 7, 5172. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Rotstein, Carmen & Winter, Yoad. 2004. Total adjectives vs. partial adjectives: Scale structure and higher-order modifiers. Natural Language & Semantics 12, 259288.
Sassoon, Galit. 2012a. A slightly modified economy principle: Stable properties have nonstable standards. In Cohen, Evan (ed.), Proceedings of the Israel Association of Theoretical Linguistics (IATL), vol. 27. MITWPL.
Sassoon, Galit W. 2012b. A typology of multidimensional adjectives. Journal of Semantics 146; Advance Access Aug. 9 2012, doi:10.1093/jos/ffs012. Published 2013, volume 30 (3), pages 335–380.
Sassoon, Galit W. & Zevakhina, Natalia. 2012. Granularity shifting: Experimental evidence from degree modifiers. Proceedings of SALT 22. University of Chicago.
Sawada, Osamu. 2009. Pragmatic aspects of implicit comparison: An economy-based approach. Journal of Pragmatics 41, 10791103.
Schwarzschild, Roger. 2012. Directed scale segments. In Chereches, A. (ed.), Proceedings of SALT XXII, 6582. CLC Publications.
Seuren, P. A. M. 1984. The comparative revisited. Journal of Semantics 3, 109141.
Solt, Stephanie & Gotzner, Nicole. 2012. Experimenting with degree. In Chereches, Anca (ed.), Proceedings of SALT 22. Cornell University.
Sperber, Dan & Wilson, Deirdre. 1986. Relevance. New York: Basil Blackwell.
Stanley, Jason & Szabo, Zoltan. 2002. On quantifier domain restriction. Mind and Language 15, 219261.
Stassen, Leon. 1985. Comparison and Universal Grammar: An essay in universal grammar. Basil: Blackwell.
von Stechow, Arnim. 1984. Comparing semantic theories of comparison. Journal of Semantics 3, 177.
Syrett, Kristin, Kennedy, Chris & Lidz, Jeffrey. 2010. Meaning and context in children’s understanding of gradable adjectives. Journal of Semantics 27, 135.
Toledo, A. & Sassoon, Galit. 2011. Absolute vs. relative adjectives – variance within vs. between individuals. Proceedings of SALT XXI, 135154. CLC Publications.
Tonhauser, Judith, Beaver, David, Roberts, Craige & Simons, Mandy. 2013. Toward a taxonomy of projective content. Language 89, 66109.
Tribushinina, Elena. 2011. Piecemeal acquisition of boundedness. Belgian Journal of Linguistics 25, 93116.
Tribushinina, E. & Gillis, S.. 2012. The acquisition of scalar structures: Production of adjectives and degree markers by Dutch-speaking children and their caregivers. Linguistics 50.2, 241268.
Whorf, Benjamin Lee. 1956. The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language. Language, thought, and reality, 134159. MIT Press.
Yoon, Youngeun. 1996. Total and partial predicates and the weak and strong interpretations. Natural Language Semantics 4, 217236.
Zevakhina, Natalia & Geurts, Bart. 2011. Scalar diversity. Ms., National Research University at Nijmegen.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 10
Total number of PDF views: 128 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 730 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 21st June 2017 - 22nd June 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.