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LINGUIST List 23.3714

Wed Sep 05 2012

Diss: Philosophy of Language/ Pragmatics/ Semantics: Burnett: 'The Grammar of Tolerance...'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 05-Sep-2012
From: Heather Burnett <heather.susan.burnettgmail.com>
Subject: The Grammar of Tolerance: On Vagueness, Context-Sensitivity, and the Origin of Scale Structure
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Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2012

Author: Heather Burnett

Dissertation Title: The Grammar of Tolerance: On Vagueness, Context-Sensitivity, and the Origin of Scale Structure

Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language

Dissertation Director:
Edward L. Keenan
Dominique Sportiche
Paul Égré
Edward P. Stabler
Jessica Rett

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis presents a new theory of the relationship between context-
sensitivity, vagueness, and adjectival scale structure. From an
empirical point of view, I argue that the four principle subclasses of
adjectival predicates (relative adjectives (ex. tall), total absolute
adjectives (ex. dry), partial absolute adjectives (ex. wet), and non-
scalar adjectives (ex. atomic)) can be distinguished along three
dimensions: 1) how their criteria of application can vary depending on
context; 2) how they display the characteristic properties of vague
language; and 3) what the properties of their associated orders (a.k.a.
scales) are. It has been known for a long time in the literature (cf.
Unger (1975), Pinkal (1995), Kennedy (2007), a.o.) that there exist
connections between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and scale
structure; however, a formal system that expresses these connections
has yet to be developed. By combining insights into the relationship
between context-sensitivity and scalarity from the delineation semantics
framework (Klein (1980), a.o.) with insights into the relationship
between tolerance relations and the Sorites paradox from Cobreros,
Égré, Ripley & van Rooij (2012)'s Tolerant, Classical, Strict (TCS)
framework, I propose such a logical system.

In chapter 2 ('Context-Sensitivity in the Adjectival Domain'), I present
data concerning contextual variation in the meaning of adjectival
predicates. Following previous work, I argue that relative adjectives like
'tall' and 'expensive', absolute adjectives like 'straight' and 'empty',
and non-scalar adjectives like 'prime' and 'hexagonal' all display
different context-sensitivity patterns. I give an analysis of these
patterns within a `delineation' semantics for scalar terms and discuss
the implications that this analysis has for the scales (relations with
particular ordering properties) associated with absolute and non-scalar

Chapter 3 ('Vagueness in Logic and Linguistics') serves as
'background' introduction to the empirical phenomenon of vagueness.

In chapter 4 ('Potential Vagueness and Scalar Asymmetries'), I present
new data concerning the distribution of the characterizing properties of
vague language presented in chapter 3. I argue that relative, absolute,
and non-scalar adjectives display different vagueness-based patterns. I
extend the delineation system proposed in chapter 2 with the TCS
system described in chapter 3 to give an analysis of these patterns.

In chapter 5 ('Adjectival Scale Structure'), following much previous
work, I present data that shows that the adjectival predicates of
different classes are associated with scales that have different
properties. Furthermore, I show that the association of particular
classes of adjectives with their particular kinds of scales is a direct
consequence of the analysis developed for accounting for vagueness
and context-sensitivity patterns in parts 1 and 2 of the dissertation. In
other words, I show that, if we have an appropriate theory of both
context-sensitivity and vagueness in the adjectival domain, we get a
theory of scale structure patterns 'for free'.

In chapter 6 ('Delineation TCS'), I lay out the proposed logical system
in more formal manner.

Chapter 7 ('Comparison with Other Approaches') presents a
comparison between the account developed in this dissertation within
the delineation approach and the currently dominant approach for
analyzing the semantics and pragmatics of gradable expressions:
degree semantics.

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