LINGUIST List 3.493

Sun 14 Jun 1992

Disc: Comparatives, Verb/Adj, X-Bar, Predication

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Larry Horn, Re: 3.472 Comparatives
  2. , Re: 3.446 Queries: Lists, Adjectives, Comma, Unhappier, Gopnik
  3. Eric Schiller, Re: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar
  4. , Re: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar

Message 1: Re: 3.472 Comparatives

Date: Fri, 12 Jun 92 15:14:16 EDRe: 3.472 Comparatives
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYaleVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
Subject: Re: 3.472 Comparatives

Sorry I didn't have a chance to jump into the fray earlier, but I had a few
thoughts on the status of comparatives as scalar predicates, and related
 In his gauntlet-tossing posting of May 29, replying to Rich Sproat's
recent LI squib on the a _unhappier_ bracketing paradox, Greg
Stump argues contra Sproat that _happier_ and other comparatives (of scalar
adjectives) are not themselves scalar values, or not clearly so. Sproat's
June 1 reply maintains that comparatives are indeed scalar, although they
don't (usually) appear in the frames Stump takes to be diagnostic for
scalarity (very ____, less____, as ____ as). In his June 5 rereply, Stump
reargues the nonscalarity of _unhappier_, on the basis of frames like
 Sandy is happier (than she was last year) if not actually happy.
 Sandy is happy if not actually happier (than she was last year).
 Sandy is not only happier (than she was last year) but happy.
 Sandy is not only happy but happier (than she was last year).
--where clear instances of scalar predicates (good/excellent, warm/hot,
widespread/universal) can only appear in the frames
 ...W... if not actually ...S...
 not only ...W... but ...S...
with the weaker value in position W and the stronger in S. Thus, he concludes
that "_happier_ doesn't behave as if it were a scalar adjective associated
with the same scale as _happy_". By June 6, Sproat is ready to concede the
 In the 1972 dissertation cited by both Rich and Greg, what I argue is that
comparatives are indeed scalar values, but the relevant scale is not defined
by the absolute and comparative but by the equative and the comparative. Thus
the relevant test sentences are
 Sandy is as happy as {Kim/she was last year} if not actually happier.
 Sandy is not only as happy as Kim, she's happier.
--both of which are clearly irreversible. Similarly,
 Kim isn't even as tall as Sandy, much less taller.
 Sandy is as tall as Kim, {or even/and possibly (even)} taller.
This is to be expected, given that A is taller than B unilaterally entails A
is as tall as (i.e. at least as tall as) B. So too, the use of the weaker "A
is as tall as B" will quantity-implicate that for all the speaker knows, A is
not taller than B. (All of this is discussed in my thesis, and again in my
1989 book "A Natural History of Negation", pp. 386-8 and note 27 on p. 548,
citing related work on comparatives as scalars by Fauconnier, Klein, Anscombre
& Ducrot, Sadock, Cornulier, and especially Atlas's 1984 paper in Linguistics
and Philosophy.) As Greg notes, it's not surprising that there's no scale of
the form <happier, happy>, given in particular that neither of the two
propositions _Sandy is happy_ and _Sandy is happier than X_, for an arbitrary
NP or clause X, entails the other. Incidentally, the comparative is not
necessarily the strongest value within its scale, since the superlative will
unilaterally entail the correspond set of comparatives: Sandy is taller than
Kim, {if not/and she may even be} the tallest on the team; This was a better
year, if not the best. [again, the frames don't allow reversal] The relevant
scale is <Aest, Aer than, as A as>. I'll come back to superlatives in a bit.
 The scale is thus defined by comparison of degree, and not by the
semantics of the adjective itself. So it's not surprising that these scalar
values don't satisfy the frames designed for scalar adjectives per se. This
comparative failure is noted not only by Stump but by Jack Hoeksema in a more
recent posting that cites substitution possibilities in the frames "Boy, is
she ____" and "What a _____ guy", where _happy_ is OK but _happier (than
Bill)_ is not. Clearly, too, _as happy as Bill_ is ruled out here, yet
various considerations, some cited above, lead us to regard equatives as
scalars. Incidentally, these diagnostics seem to allow through some
non-obvious scalars, although arguably a scalar reading is then forced:
 Boy, is she ever {female/dead/perfect/unique}!
 Boy, is that ever true!
Pure contradictories still seem a bit out of sort here:
 #Boy, is 7 ever odd!
Anyway, my point here is that equatives and comparatives are no more at home
in this environment, whether scalar (as I continue to insist) or not, than are
such clear scalar values as quantificational determiners (some, most, all),
cardinals, and ordinals.
 Now from all of this it does NOT follow that I would endorse Rich's
parallel morphological/semantic analysis of _unhappier_ as [un[happy[er]]].
To the contrary, I find it exceedingly counterintuitive if not
counterexemplified, partly by some of the arguments raised in earlier
exchanges on this topic. Let me just add my own skepticism, fueled by the
general consideration that the acceptability of an arbitrary instance of
_unXer_ (and, I would add, of _unXest_) seems to be directly linked to the
existence of the corresponding example with _unX_, a link which is not
directly captured if the negative prefix is added last with the meaning
'opposite of'. Thus, even though we might expect _unsafer_, _uncleaner_,
_unclearer_, and of course _unhappier_ to be blocked by the existence of the
comparative of the lexicalized negative adjective in the same way that
*_untaller_, *_unbetter_, etc. are, they don't sound all that bad, and the
reason can only be that the basic uncompared adjectives (or the corresponding
equative) are also unblocked, for whatever reason. If we're dealing with the
comparison of negative adjectives rather than the negation of comparative
ones, that's precisely to be expected. Even more troubling for the Sproat
line, I would think, is the existence of un-superlatives. The ONLY way to
explain the existence of _unwisest_ along the non-existence of _unsmartest_
and _unbrightest_ is by deriving such forms as superlatives of the
un-adjective and not vice versa. Similarly with the unkindest (*unnicest)
cut of all. And not only must the existence of _impurest_ be predicted (at
least I can imagine referring to _the impurest sample_), but we must be able
to predict that this particular superlative will take the marked iN- prefix.
Presumably these cases would demand a conventional negation-first analysis,
as indeed Sproat readily accepts for other examples that don't fit
the new paradigm. But it begins to seem that there's less and less for the
new approach to do. (I also have reservations about Rich's use of the notion
oppositeness, but I better let those go undiscussed here except to note that
(i) whatever its viability with the un-comparatives, it's all the more uncon-
vincing for the un-superlatives: to say that Kim is the unhappiest he's ever
been is not to say that he's the opposite of the happiest he's ever been, and
(ii) it also seems less plausible for clausal un-comparisons, where e.g.
_Sandy is unhappier than she's ever been_ comes out as 'Sandy is un [happier-
 So I'd argue that while comparatives (and superlatives!) are indeed scalar,
Rich originally claimed for the former, the constituency argument employing
that claim remains highly questionable.
--Larry Horn (LhornYalevm)
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Message 2: Re: 3.446 Queries: Lists, Adjectives, Comma, Unhappier, Gopnik

Date: Sun, 7 Jun 1992 20:59 MST Re: 3.446 Queries: Lists, Adjectives, Comma, Unhappier, Gopnik
Subject: Re: 3.446 Queries: Lists, Adjectives, Comma, Unhappier, Gopnik

To L.M. P. McPherson on Adjectives versus Verbs:
There are Native North American languages that do mot appear to make a
distinction between the categories "verb" and "adjective". The ones
I've done fieldwork on Lakota (Siouan), Sarcee, Apache, and Navajo
(Athapaskan), and Siberian Yupik (Eskimo-Aleut) did, on the whole, not
make a clear distinction between verbs and adjectives. Rather adjectives
are a sort of verb, and are inflected like verbs. Copulas are therefore
very rare. In lakota, adjectives are really stative verbs; NPs containing
"adjectives" do not really exist: you have to use either a relative clause,
i.e. the dog that's big = the big dog, or say: dog-big where the big is a
stative verb compounded with dog. There are subtle semantic and pragmatic
differences between the two. Compounding is of course not typical of N-
Adj sequences in lakota, because you can compound virtually anything with
anything in lakota.
In the Athapaskan languages, the situation is similar, except that there is
a less basic distinction between stative and active verbs, and that NPs with
attributive "adjectives" are more often relative clauses; compounding also
exists, but the number of stems that can compound with a Noun seems to be
a closed class, not an open class as in lakota.
Of course, both in Athapaskan and in Siouan, there are some morphological
(inflectional) and syntactic characteristics that do distinguish adjs as a
subclass within the verbs.
The situation is a bit different in Eskimo: most "adjectives" are verbs,
inflected as such, thus "big" is a verb "to be big", a situation like the
one in Siouan and Athapaskan. However, you also have a small but non-
closed class of nouns which are adjectives, translatable as "big thing". The
 verbs can be used ( as in Athapaskan and Siouan) as attributive adjectives in
realtive clauses; the nouns can be used attributively in apposition to
another noun, agreeing in case and number with it (none of these languages
have gender), thus 'dog big-thing' = 'big dog'. You can also use the nouns
precicatively by verbalizing them with the derivational but productive
N -> V suffix basically meaning 'to be', so 'dog'
= 'the dog is big'. But you can also form the equivalent of NPs with
attributive "adjectives" by using one of the N > N productive derivational
suffixes that semantically correspond to "adjective", such as the ones
meaning 'big', 'small', 'new', 'old', 'nice', 'cruddy', and a few dozen
others. These are suffixes only, completely unrelated to nouns or verbs,
and being suffixes, are also a closed class.
I apologize to other authorities for inaccuracies herein; my goal being to
compare in three very different Native American families, the things
translatable with adjectives in English.
Willem J. Reuse
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721
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Message 3: Re: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar

Date: Thu, 11 Jun 92 12:06:49 CDRe: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar
From: Eric Schiller <>
Subject: Re: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar

re: that good of
In my recent CLS Paper (Eric Schiller & Barbara Need: The Liberation of
Minor Categories: Such a Nice Idea!) I set forth an autolexical analysis
of a variety of constructions, concentrating on predeterminers and to
a lesser extent degree terms. this construction can be handled in the
same way as 'too good a', if one wants to assume that 'that' is a
degree term (in our system, something which combines with an adjective
to form a predeterminer) and that 'of' is acting as an article
(syntactically combines with N-bar to form NP). The latter assumption
is reasonable, given the a/of variation seen in sorta/sortof, and the
'of' could be motivated here by some form of hypercorrection.

I am not sure this is the best analysis, but I toss it into the
arena so that interested parties can play with it. No intellectual
or theoretical investment undertaken - it is just a thought.

Eric Schiller
University of Chicago
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Message 4: Re: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar

Date: Thu, 11 Jun 92 15:52:42 EDRe: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar
From: <pesetskAthena.MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: 3.479 Queries: TV, Software, Predicates, Good, X-Bar

Ronnie Wilbur writes:

>In ASL, predicate nominals have no overt verb:
> ____hn
>the predicate nominal has a head nod on it (without the head nod, the
>sequence is supposed to mean "John's doctor"). The facts about ASL predicate
>nominals appear to be very similar to those of Russian, as far as I am
>able to determine. Essentially, you can negate the predicate nominal ("John
>is not a doctor") or you can modify the nominal itself ("John is a good doctor"
>) but attempts to modify the "missing" verb (with tense-aspect-modality, for
>example) are unacceptable without an overt verb.
>My question concerns what the analysis of e.g., the Russian case would be. Is
>there a V slot that is unfilled?

One datum that might become an argument for an empty verb is that
Russian, like Black English as described by Labov, does not allow the
empty verb before a movement site. My Russian is becoming somewhat
rusty but I think relevant examples are things like the following:

	*Masha -- xoroshij lingvist, kakov Misha tozhe.
	Masha good linguist, which Misha also

	Masha -- xoroshij lingvist, kakovym Misha tozhe byl.
				 which Misha also was

[I used to give these examples with WH-words other than 'kakov', but the
examples in something like this form were suggested to me by Elena
Paducheva, a Russian linguist. Native speakers, please correct any

As Labov noted in the BEV context, this is a familiar (and still
unexplained) property of contracted auxiliaries in English ("*...which
Misha also's"). If the explanation for the contraction facts should
turn out to presuppose the existence of a verb position, then presumably
the same will carry over to Russian.

You might want to look at an MIT dissertation from 5 years ago or so by
Tova Rapoport, however, which analyses the zero copula in Hebrew as
simply not there. I do not know whether the Hebrew zero copula
otherwise acts like contraction in English.

>Please respond to me directly ( and I'll summarize
>the results if there is sufficient interest. Thanks. ANY SYNTACTIC APPROACH

I've been wishing that someone would sort these things out for a long
time, so I took the liberty of posting my remarks myself. Russian
syntax is so woefully underdeveloped for a language with a rich
descriptive tradition! Maybe someone will read this and write something

-David Pesetsky
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