The Relevance Of Gradability In Natural Language: Chinese And English

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This dissertation explores how the syntax and semantics of gradability contribute to the understanding of other linguistic phenomena. Within this research agenda, I examine three different topics instantiating the interaction between gradability and other linguistic notions. The exploration is important not only for studying the linguistic properties of these phenomena, but also for understanding theoretical issues behind them. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the basics of degree semantics and the interval-based ontological formalization of degrees. Chapter 2 presents a detailed description and syntactic-semantic analysis of the construction in which a possessive verb takes a surface degree expression. During the description and analysis, the construction is compared to other degree constructions. The interpretation of the construction can be derived from the function of the possessive verb interacting with the interval-based representation of degrees. My proposal provides additional support to the small clause-based analysis of possessive verbs. Chapter 3 deals with the interaction between nominal and adjectival gradability, through examining size adjectives used as degree modifiers for gradable nouns. In particular, I examine the status of the Bigness Generalization, which says that only positive size adjectives can degree-modify gradable nouns. I show that the generalization is not categorical, because negative size adjectives indeed can be degree modifiers for gradable nouns in certain contexts. In the chapter I propose an analysis of the phenomenon at the semantic-pragmatic interface that explains the violable nature of the Bigness Generalization. Chapter 4 explores the relevance of gradability to the interpretation of weak generic sentences best represented by Dutchmen are good sailors. Interpreting such a sentence requires restricting the domain of individuals that the sentence quantifies over and determining what the underlying predicate is. The first aspect makes reference to a contextual standard associated with the population denoted by the subject, and the second aspect makes reference to a different standard, which is associated with the population alternative to the denotation of the subject.

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Semantics; Syntax; Gradability


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Rooth, Mats

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Abusch, Dorit

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Whitman, John

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Ph. D., Linguistics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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