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LINGUIST List 19.1675

Mon May 26 2008

Diss: Semantics/Syntax: Rett: 'Degree Modification in Natural Language'

Editor for this issue: Evelyn Richter <evelynlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Jessica Rett, Degree Modification in Natural Language

Message 1: Degree Modification in Natural Language
Date: 25-May-2008
From: Jessica Rett <jessica.rettgmail.com>
Subject: Degree Modification in Natural Language
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Institution: Rutgers University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Jessica Rett

Dissertation Title: Degree Modification in Natural Language

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics

Dissertation Director(s):
Roger Schwarzschild
Mark C Baker
Veneeta Dayal
Angelika Kratzer

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation is a study of the roles played by degree modifiers - functions
from sets of degree to sets of degrees - across different constructions and
languages. The immediate goal of such a project is a better understanding of the
distribution of these morphemes and how they contribute to the meaning of an
expression. More broadly, a study of the semantics of degree modifiers is of
interest because it helps demonstrate parallels between the degree and
individual domains.

Chapter 1 introduces the assumptions made and practices followed in the
dissertation. Chapter 2 presents a first study of degree modification:
'm-words,' a term I use to refer to 'many,' 'much,' 'few,' 'little,' and their
cross-linguistic counterparts. I argue that they are functions from a set of
degrees to its measure. This characterization is based on accounts of m-words as
differentials in comparatives; I extend it to other occurrences of m-words, e.g.
as they occur pre-nominally and in quantity questions in Balkan languages.

Chapter 3 broadens the study of degree modifiers to the semantic property
'evaluativity'. A construction is evaluative if it refers to a degree that
exceeds a standard, as in 'John is tall'. I argue that evaluativity is encoded
in the null degree modifier 'EVAL,' a function from a set of degrees to those
which exceed a contextually-valued standard. Evidence for this approach is the
occurrence of evaluativity in expressions with and without degree quantifiers
(pace 'POS' approaches). I extend the account to a wide variety of evaluative
and non-evaluative constructions.

Chapter 4 begins as an extension of Chapter 3: it is a study of exclamatives
(like 'Boy, how very tall John is!'), which seem to be evaluative. Addressing
this issue, I argue, requires characterizing the content of exclamatives as
degree properties. In the end, such an account suggests that the scope of degree
modification extends beyond canonical degree constructions.
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