LINGUIST List 7.367

Fri Mar 8 1996

Disc: Intensifiers, Re: 7.352

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Jan K Lindstrom, Intensifiers (cont'd), Re: 7.352
  2. Karl Teeter, Re: 7.352, Disc: Intensifiers

Message 1: Intensifiers (cont'd), Re: 7.352

Date: Fri, 08 Mar 1996 15:38:10 +0200
From: Jan K Lindstrom <jklindstwaltari.Helsinki.FI>
Subject: Intensifiers (cont'd), Re: 7.352
Dear colleagues,

With reference to my summary on 'truth'-intensification and the follow-up
discussion it seems that the story needs further comment and clarification.
Especially after having been pointed out in public as revealing
"lack of insight into the nature of linguistic phenomena"
(shouldn't we show some respect for each other on this list?).

I can accept that I, obviously, used the concept 'continuum' too freely in
the text. Perhaps we would all be happier if we only talk about a *connection*
between expressions for 'accuracy' and grammatical markers for intensification.
After my summary, I have received an amount data that further conform with
that kind of a hypothesis. More than this I did not wish to say.

But perhaps I could present some data of my own that have puzzled me a long
time during the analysis and that not too bafflingly can lead someone to use
the continuum metaphor. More appropriate could be to talk about a wide
spectrum of uses, or actualized connotations. The examples are Swedish
and for simplicity's sake I have left out diacritics from spelling.

As a point in case, we may take reiterations of the adjective LITEN, plural
form being SMA. Consider following uses:

(i)	Dar syns sma sma siffror.
	('There one can see small small figures')

(ii)	Hon bredde sma sma smorgasar.
	('She made small small sandwiches')

(iii)	Jag dromde om att skaffa sma sma barn.
	('I dreamed of having small small children')

(iv)	Du lilla lilla Ludde.
	('You little little Proper Name')

What about intensification and accuracy? (i) might allow an intensive
reading most readily ('very small figures'), in (ii) it is improbable,
since the sandwiches are offered as an exclusive dish in the context.
In a joint analysis, (i) and (ii) could be examples of 'being accurate',
the referents would TRULY carry the signified content. But the relation to
intensification proper can, in principle, be understood, be it a
continuum or not.

Take then (iii) where both accuracy and intensification
are more or less out of place. Who wants to have 'very small children'?
Or truly small, not something like small children? So why focus on the
quality 'small'? I propose that the function of reiteration is to focus
upon an identifying core quality, as opening a conceptual frame around
the quality 'small' on one side, and the concept 'child' on the other.
Accurately small children can be identified as BABIES (that's what the
speaker is dreaming of having). So what about them being small? In the
search of the point, I think, the role of connotations (conceptual frame)
comes into focus. Namely, babies are cute because they are so small.
Similarly, repetition makes a point in (ii) on the exclusiveness, the
pedantic skilfulness in making small cocktail sandwiches and identifies
this exclusive type. And in (i), perhaps, the point is the difficulty,
the effort behind trying to make out what the 'small figures' stand for.
The repetition focuses upon the authenticity of the situation.

What about (iv)? The vocative use of reiterated LILLA does not have to
have anything with size to do. Not, then, 'very small' or 'truly small'.
Here, I propose, we have to do with sincerity. The one who repeats
the attribute seems to want to signal that s/he sincerely sympathizes
with the other person. The adjective itself is reinterpreted as
connotating something like 'dear'. Okay, we have, it seems, a connection,
not a continuum, between 'the dear ones' and 'the little ones'. If we
follow the identification-analysis, the repetition might point out that
the person is to be identified sincerely sympathetic.

Other cases and other connotations than endearment and such could be
discussed, but we might be satisfied with this LITLLE case. The analyses
of the contents of the examples are preliminary, and, I am open
for suggestions. But I hope the case above shows the difficulties when
trying to make out generalizations about the use of repetition.

By the way, as a speaker of Swedish I am fully aware of the fact that
quantifiers are common intensifier items. The most common intensifier
in Swedish is 'mycket' ('a lot'). It is little surprising that
intensifiers could also develop from other domains than "truth".
Interestingly, a person informed about Thai that an expression may
denote both truth and quantity, the interpretation is then dependent
on the context. So, I think it is appropriate never to say never
when it comes to recognizing semantic (and pragmatic) connections,
and plausibilieties and implausibilieties of connection.

Jan Lindstrom
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Re: 7.352, Disc: Intensifiers

Date: Fri, 08 Mar 1996 10:08:08 EST
From: Karl Teeter <>
Subject: Re: 7.352, Disc: Intensifiers
Dear Friends: All of this interesting discussion has been about so-called 
truth intensifiers", such as "very" and "really" in English, 
but the category is not confined to this. Algic languages also have 
intensifiers, but in the verbs, where a brief suffix attached to a verb stem 
perfoms this function. The example that sticks in my head may serve as 
typical: Wiyot has a verb meaning "to pull up a plant, to weed" a 
concept that was culturally important to the Wiyot people, who under 
white oppression found what little paid work they did find as temporary 
agricultural workers. This verb root with the intensive suffix added 
means, intensively, "to pull up by the roots". Yours, kvt (=Karl V. Teeter, 
Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus, Harvard 
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue