LINGUIST List 3.516

Mon 22 Jun 1992

Disc: Comparatives

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  1. Greg Stump, Unhappier
  2. Robert Beard, Comparatives

Message 1: Unhappier

Date: Sat, 20 Jun 92 13:16:42 ESUnhappier
From: Greg Stump <>
Subject: Unhappier

Larry Horn argues that comparatives and the corresponding equatives
stand in a scalar relation, citing examples such as

(1) Sandy is as happy as {Kim/she was last year} if not actually
(2) Sandy is not only as happy as Kim, she's happier.

which might be spelled out less elliptically as

(3) Sandy is [ as happy as {Kim/she was last year}] if not
 actually [ happier than {Kim/she was last year}]
(4) Sandy is not only [ as happy as Kim ], she's [ happier
 than Kim ]

But this argument pertains to the bracketed adjective phrases in
(3) and (4) rather than to the simple adjectives _happy_ and
_happier_; indeed, `equative' is (in English) a category of APs but not
of simple adjectives. So even if comparative APs and equative APs
stand in a scalar relation, does that entail that their heads do so as
well? The question is relevant, because Richard's original argument
about _unhappier_ hinges on the claim that the word _happier_ (and not
simply the phrase which it heads) is itself scalar. Note that the
irreversibility of the examples in (3) and (4) could be claimed to
follow from the fact that the bracketed APs designate distinct intervals
on the scale of happiness; but again, _happier_ by itself designates a
direction on that scale rather than any interval on it. So perhaps the
question to be asking is: is the scale at issue in (3) and (4) the
scale of happiness or a scale of degree (abstracted from the notion of
happiness)? Anybody know of any hard evidence one way or the other?
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Message 2: Comparatives

Date: 21 Jun 1992 00:39:41 EDT
From: Robert Beard <>
Subject: Comparatives

Boulder, Colorado
June 20, 1992
 Sorry for the delay but I am again on-line and
have a few points of clarification to add to the
discussion comparatives and morphosyntactic dis-
junctures which seems to have focussed more on my
examples than my contention. I presume this to
indicate that my arguments are irrefutable.
 1. The point I made with the example *_My car is
redder than it is orange_ was simply that factors
other than phonological ones are afoot in determi-
ning whether the morphological or syntactic compa-
rative is used. If both forms are grammatical here,
one only more acceptable than the other, the factors
determining preferability obviously are not phono-
logical. The principled meaning of the construction
_my car is more red/redder than orange_ is that of
"forced" comparatives, i.e. comparatives of nongra-
dable adjectives like _her mind is more infinite than
his_, i.e. "more nearly". Eric's example _whiter than
white_, which has biblical overtones for me (_holier
than the holiest_), is an idiomatic structure which
strikes me as falling somewhere beside the point since
the comparison, as several subscribers have pointed
out, is with an N or NP rather than an adjective.
 2. David Stampe noted that trisyllabic feet in
English ending on a light open syllable do in fact
form a natural class in English. However, I am still
perplexed as to how the closed final syllable in
_distasteful_, _moral_, etc. disrupts the beat of
English speech in ways which _happy_ and _unhappy_
do not. I also find it hard to believe that the
consistent failure of borrowed terms to undergo
morphological comparison is conincidence. To me, all
these adjs are prosodically equivalent yet only the
ones with two suffixes, -y and -ly, exhibit morpho-
logical comparatives with or without un. In short,
the evidence still seems to weigh in favor of a
morphological, not phonological explanation, and that
without reference to brackets.
 3. I would also take issue with Mark Mandel's
claim that _of_ plays a different role in _a cook of
French cuisine_ vs. _a baker of French cuisine_. I
have intentionally kept the DOs identical here to point
out that the slight unfelicity of the former is car-
ried over to the latter, indicating that the DO is the
culprit, not the structure. Of course the relation is
the same. Argument structure is a purely semantic mat-
ter unrelated to the syntactic categories N, V, A.
All these syntactic categories have argument structure
(see "Decompositional composition" in NLLT 9.195-229,
Pustejowski 1991. "The Generative Lexicon" _Computa-
tional Linguistics_ 17). Relational nouns like _cook,
chef, chauffeur, mother, victim_ must have natural
function features (Pustejowski's TELIC ROLE) in order
to explain (a) compositional properties like _slow
chef_, _good cook_ and (b) derivational properities
such as the predictable roles of the subjects and ob-
jects in denominal verbs like _X fathered Y_ (X is the
father), _X victimized Y_ (Y is the victim) and the
semantic interpretation of derived verbs like _X
hammered Y_. Even Chomsky (1981) recognized _of_ as
an empty case marker. Indeed, I would argue that all
Ps are empty case markers within a complete, morpho-
logically based theory of case. However we explain
this wide range of derivational properties, we cannot
pin our hopes on affixation and bracketing since there
is none in the case of zero (omissive) morphology yet
the same range of regularity characterizes omissively
marked derivates as characterize those marked phono-
 4. All in all, then, LMBM (and similar models)
predict all these phenomena much more accurately with
the following strategy:
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