Measurement Scales and Gradability: On the Semantics of the Possessive Property Concept Construction in Mandarin Chinese

In Daniel Altshuler & Jessica Rett (eds.), The Semantics of Plurals, Focus, Degrees, and Times: Essays in Honor of Roger Schwarzschild. Cham: Springer Verlag. pp. 239-256 (2019)
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Abstract

In Mandarin Chinese, gradable predicates can be classified into two types based on their morphosyntactic features: one consisting of gradable lexemes like gradable adjectives and gradable verbs, and the other consisting of verbal phrases made up of a possessive/existential morpheme, you, and a bare NP. The goal of this paper is to provide a formal account of the gradability of the “you + NP” construction. We show that the gradability of this construction is conditioned by the NP inside: when the NP inside denotes abstract substances, “you + NP” is gradable; if NPs denote non-abstract substances, “you + NP” is non-gradable.and non-abstract NPs differ in the types of measure scales they are associated with: abstract NPs are associated with a scale that lacks an absolute zero point, and non-abstract NPs are associated with a scale that contains such a point. The semantics of the existential/possessive morpheme you is sensitive to this distinction and gives rise to variation in gradability.

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Xiao Li
Tsinghua University

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