LINGUIST List 6.518

Thu 06 Apr 1995

Sum: Kind of, sort of

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  1. Christof Vanden Eynde, summary : kind of, sort of

Message 1: summary : kind of, sort of

Date: Tue, 4 Apr 1995 10:30:42 +summary : kind of, sort of
From: Christof Vanden Eynde <>
Subject: summary : kind of, sort of

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Some time ago I asked the question whether the equivalents of 'kind of'
and 'sort of' in other languages had the same 'approximative'
meaning as they seem to have in English. I illustrated this with the
example "A zebra is a kind of horse".
Several people reacted to this. First of all, several American speakers
pointed out to me that the example that I gave did not have the
'approximative meaning' that I claimed it did. The problem, it seems, is
with the position of the article. American speakers would say : "A zebra
is kind of a horse". There might be a difference here between American
English and British English, since in D.A.Cruse's _ Lexical Semantics_
(Cambridge, 1986) the approximative meaning of 'kind of' is illustrated
with the example "(...) a kind of flattened, three-sided turban (...)"
(p.138). I would like to get confirmation about this difference from
native speakers.
As far as the situation in other languages is concerned, there are a
number of interesting similarities. Ildiko Koch pointed out that
Hungarian "egyfajta + noun" corresponds to English 'sort of'. This
expression is spelt as one word, whereas "egy fajta" (in two words) has
the 'strict' categorial meaning. Moreover, "egyfajta" cannot be
accentuated (cfr. the possible reduction of 'kind of' and 'sort of').
A formal difference also seems to occur in colloquial French "une sorte
de X", since 'sorte' (which normally takes 'une') can take 'un' if X is
masculine. There seems to be a reinterpretation so that 'sorte' no
longer functions as the head of the NP.
Kevin Donnelly informed me that that Irish Gaelic 'cinea\l' (grave accent
on the 'a'), is also used in the approximative sense.
Non native-speakers informed me that Russian 'vrode + genetive noun'
and Czech "nejaky druh + genetive" also have the approximative meaning.
I would welcome intuitions from native speakers about these
Prof. zev bar-Lev wrote me that he had published an article about
this subject ('Hyposet Logic', FOLIA LINGUISTICA XVIII, pp. 469-484
(1984)). In this article he sets apart 'kind of a' which indicates mere
similarity, from 'a kind of', which might indicate what he called
'hyposets'. He illustrates this with the example "a calf is not a cow :
it's a kind of cow."
Finally, Thomas Becker argued that I should not assume a meaning
change, since the words for category always refer to family
Given the formal differences between the 'categorial' and the
'approximative' senses however that seem to
have developped in several languages, this last conclusion seems somewhat

Christof Vanden Eynde
Department of Dutch Linguistics
University of Gent (Belgium)
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