Among semanticists and philosophers of language, there has been a recent outburst of interest in predicates such as delicious, called predicates of personal taste (PPTs, e.g. Lasersohn 2005). Somewhat surprisingly, the question of whether or how we can distinguish aesthetic predicates from PPTs has hardly been addressed at all in this recent work. It is precisely this question that we address. We investigate linguistic criteria that we argue can be used to delineate the class of specifically aesthetic adjectives. We show (...) that there are, in fact, good motivations for keeping PPTs and aesthetic predicates apart: the semantic structure of the former, but not the latter, entails an experiencer. There are many adjectives whose semantic structure arguably also entails an experiencer, yet which are readily used in expressing aesthetic judgments. Adjectives such as provocative or moving are a case in point, since as adjectives they arguably maintain the experiencer argument from the verb they are derived from. Nevertheless, when we describe, say, a sculpture as provocative, or a theater performance as moving, we clearly make aesthetic judgments. The difficult question, then, is to articulate the relationship between an aesthetic predicate (of which beautiful and ugly are paradigms) and other predicates that just happen to be used in making an aesthetic judgment. Tightly related to this point is the more general question of the relationship between an evaluative predicate and a predicate that occurs in an evaluative judgment. One of our aims is to make some progress in addressing these questions. (shrink)
The goal of this short paper is to show that esthetic adjectives—exemplified by “beautiful” and “elegant”—do not pattern stably on a range of linguistic diagnostics that have been used to taxonomize the gradability properties of adjectives. We argue that a plausible explanation for this puzzling data involves distinguishing two properties of gradable adjectives that have been frequently conflated: whether an adjective’s applicability is sensitive to a comparison class, and whether an adjective’s applicability is context-dependent.
Color adjectives have played a central role in work on language typology and variation, but there has been relatively little investigation of their meanings by researchers in formal semantics. This is surprising given the fact that color terms have been at the center of debates in the philosophy of language over foundational questions, in particular whether the idea of a compositional, truth-conditional theory of natural language semantics is even coherent. The challenge presented by color terms is articulated in detail in (...) the work of Charles Travis. Travis argues that structurally isomorphic sentences containing color adjectives can shift truth value from context to context depending on how they are used and in the absence of effects of vagueness or ambiguity/polysemy, and concludes that a deterministic mapping from structures to truth conditions is impossible. The goal of this paper is to provide a linguistic perspective on this issue, which we believe defuses Travis’ challenge. We provide empirical arguments that color adjectives are in fact ambiguous between gradable and nongradable interpretations, and that this simple ambiguity, together with independently motivated options concerning scalar dimension within the gradable reading accounts for the Travis facts in a simpler, more constrained, and thus ultimately more successful fashion than recent contextualist analyses such as those in Szabó (Perspectives on semantics, pragmatics and discourse: A festschrift for Ferenc Kiefer, 2001) or Rothschild and Segal (Mind Lang, 2009). (shrink)
Presents a set-theoretic version of the analysis of "there be" as predicating instantiation of a property, a property-theoretic version of which was developed in McNally 1992. This paper provides a solution to the criticism that McNally 1992's analysis could not account for sentences in which postverbal nominal contains a monotone decreasing or nonmonotonic determiner.
In this volume leading researchers present new work on the semantics and pragmatics of adjectives and adverbs, and their interfaces with syntax. Its concerns include the semantics of gradability; the relationship between adjectival scales and verbal aspect; the relationship between meaning and the positions of adjectives and adverbs in nominal and verbal projections; and the fine-grained semantics of different subclasses of adverbs and adverbs. Its goals are to provide a comprehensive vision of the linguistically significant structural and interpretive properties of (...) adjectives and adverbs, to highlight the similarities between these two categories, and to signal the importance of a careful and detailed integration of lexical and compositional semantics. The editors open the book with an overview of current research before introducing and contextualizing the remaining chapters. The work is aimed at scholars and advanced students of syntax, semantics, formal pragmatics, and discourse. It will also appeal to researchers in philosophy, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition interested in the syntax and semantics of adjectives and adverbs. (shrink)
The nature of moral judgments, and, more specifically, the question of how they relate, on the one hand, to objective reality and, on the other, to subjective experience, are issues that have been central to metaethics from its very beginnings. While these complex and challenging issues have been debated by analytic philosophers for over a century, it is only relatively recently that more interdisciplinary and empirically-oriented approaches to such issues have begun to see light. The present chapter aims to make (...) a contribution of that kind. We will present the results of an empirical – specifically, corpus linguistic – study that offers evidence that moral predicates exhibit hallmarks of subjectivity at the linguistic level, but also, that they differ significantly from paradigmatically subjective predicates. (shrink)
Even-like particles have widely been analyzed as inducing scalar and additive presuppositions (cf. Horn 1969; Karttunen & Peters 1979; Rooth 1992; Gast & van der Auwera 2011). However, the additivity of even has been controversial since at least Horn 1992 and increasingly called into question (see Greenberg & Umbach 2021 for references); Greenberg specifically argues that scalar even-like particles can vary in additivity. This claim is surprising in light of the typological study in Gast & van der Auwera 2011, which (...) subsumes even and similar expressions under a larger class of additive particles. Against this background, we present an analysis of Italian addirittura, which with perfino has been described as scalar-additive (Visconti 2005) – but only optionally so – and is chosen preferentially over perfino precisely in those contexts that Greenberg takes to challenge the additivity of even. We argue, drawing on observations in Atayan 2017, that addirittura contrasts with perfino in deriving its scalar alternatives from rhetorical structure rather than focus structure. Once this is recognized we can view addirittura as additive, after all, in a rhetorical sense we describe below. (shrink)
This volume is the first to focus specifically on experimental studies of the semantics of gradability, scale structure and vagueness. It presents support for and challenges to current formal analyses of these phenomena in view of experimentally collected data, highlighting the ways semantic and pragmatic theory can benefit from experimental methodologies. The papers in the volume contribute to an explicit and detailed account of the use, representation, and online processing of gradable and vague expressions using various kinds of controlled speaker (...) judgment tasks, eye tracking, and ERP. The aim is to strengthen the foundations of experimental semantics and promote interaction between linguists, psycholinguists, psychologists, and philosophers who are interested in the semantics of natural language. Using data representing different languages and a variety of nominal and adjectival constructions, including degree modification and comparatives, the contributions address scale-based classifications of gradable predicates, such as the absolute vs. relative distinction; the nature of the standards for applicability of gradable expressions and the ways in which standards are determined; the nature of dimensions and multidimensionality in the meaning of scalar expressions; and the role of embodiment, subjectivity, and sociolinguistic considerations in the use and understanding of gradable expressions. (shrink)
First published in 1997, this book addresses the question: What is the interpretation of English there-existential construction? One of the principal goals is to develop an interpretation for the construction that will specifically address other properties of the postcopular DP. After outlining the problem, the author goes on to present a syntactic motivation for the claim that the postcopular DP is the sole complement to the existential predicate, as well as for the claim that the optional final phrase is a (...) predictive adjunct. In chapter 3 the interpretation for the basic existential construction is developed and then compared to analyses that take the postcopular DP to denote an ordinary individual or a generalised quantifier of individuals. This analysis is then augmented to account for the contribution of the final XP and shows how the predicate restriction can be derived from a more general condition on depictive/circumstantial VP-adjuncts. The final chapter contain some speculative discussion of the broader implications of the proposal in the context of data such as "list" existential and "presentational-there" sentences. (shrink)
Many languages offer a surprisingly complex range of options for referring to entities using expressions whose main descriptive content is contributed by an adjective, such as Dutch de blinde ‘the blind,’ het besprokene, ‘the discussed,’ or het ongewone van het niet roken ‘the strange about not smoking.’ In this paper, we present a case study of the syntax and compositional semantics of three such constructions in Dutch, one of which we argue has not previously been identified in the literature. The (...) data and the analysis will shed light on our understanding of how reference using adjectives differs from that using nouns in languages that have the two categories, as well as on the differences between reference to entities via their properties vs. reference to properties themselves. Finally, we briefly discuss related work and indicate directions for future study of the typological variation found in this rich and highly understudied corner of natural language. (shrink)