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LINGUIST List 19.3193

Tue Oct 21 2008

Diss: Pragmatics/Psycholing/Semantics: Sassoon: 'Vagueness, ...'

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        1.    Galit Sassoon, Vagueness, Gradability and Typicality: A comprehensive semantic analysis

Message 1: Vagueness, Gradability and Typicality: A comprehensive semantic analysis
Date: 20-Oct-2008
From: Galit Sassoon <adar69012.net.il>
Subject: Vagueness, Gradability and Typicality: A comprehensive semantic analysis
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Institution: Tel-Aviv University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Galit W. Sassoon

Dissertation Title: Vagueness, Gradability and Typicality: A comprehensive semantic analysis

Dissertation URL: http://weidmans.info/Sassoon-Galit/Download/PhD/

Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics

Dissertation Director:
Nirit Kadmon

Dissertation Abstract:

The analyses of predicates (and in particular nouns) in semantics and
psychology focus on separated sets of facts. This fact reduces the adequacy
of the theories in both disciplines.

On the one hand, semantic theories usually associate adjectives, but not
nouns, with a gradable structure (mapping of entities to degrees along
ordering dimensions). However, the last forty years of research in
cognitive psychology have established beyond doubt that the concepts that
nouns denote do possess a gradable structure. The relevance of these facts
to semantics is demonstrated by some novel linguistic data. For example, I
show that nouns occur more freely than adjectives in one type of comparison
statements, whose semantic interpretation is standardly assumed to be
mediated by degrees. This fact supports the view that the semantic analysis
of nouns ought to involve mapping to degrees.

On the other hand, Kamp and Partee (1995) have analyzed nouns as gradable,
but empirical and theoretical considerations suggest that their theory is
inadequate. Furthermore, psychological theories, which treat nouns as
gradable and multi-dimensional, fail to explain important semantic
contrasts: First, gradable adjectives, but not nouns, are compatible with a
variety of expressions whose meanings relate to degrees. Second, in
multi-dimensional adjectives, but not in nouns, the ordering dimensions can
be accessed and quantified over. By looking at the entire set of facts, a
line of explanation suggests itself, hinging upon distinctions in the type
of graded structure of nominal and adjectival concepts. I define the notion
of a dimension-set in a precise and formal way, and I provide an improved
account for the linguistic contrasts between nouns and adjectives. Finally,
cognitive psychologists view many of their finding as refuting logical
rules which form the basis of semantic theories. By showing that these
findings are compatible with, and to some extent motivated by, semantic and
pragmatic rules, I pave the way to bridging the gap between semantics and
psychology. I propose that mechanisms that are advanced by psychological
theories can and should be embedded within a semantic model that represents
knowledge and its gradual growth ('a learning model'), to allow for a
more adequate representation of psychological and semantic facts.

Finally, prominent semantic gradability theories are concerned with
accounting for polarity effects (differences between positive and negative
predicates like tall and short), and with providing a recursive semantic
derivation for comparison statements (like Dan is taller than every boy
is). I propose a detailed formal theory concerning the degree functions
that positive and negative predicates denote and concerning the derivation
of semantic interpretation for comparison statements. I show that my theory
is superior to previous theories in terms of the set of facts it adequately

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