LINGUIST List 7.374

Sun Mar 10 1996

Disc: Intensifiers

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Alan R. King", Intensifiers

Message 1: Intensifiers

Date: Fri, 08 Mar 1996 22:02:27 GMT
From: "Alan R. King" <>
Subject: Intensifiers
In commenting (7.352) on the "continuum" proposal (now modified to
"connection") in Jan Lindstrom's contribution on intensifiers (7.348), what
I was attempting to criticise was the general view that appears to underly a
great deal of current linguistic work, namely a view of semantics as a sort
of flattish terrain within which, when one linguistic item recurrently
shares more than one meaning, a "semantic continuum" is assumed to account
for it. My point, not necessarily shared by numerous linguists, is that the
phenomenon to be accounted for can often be accounted for much better by
referring to pragmatic phenomena that are in some cases already quite well
known (within pragmatics), whereby the attempted semantic "continuum"
explanation may be made redundant.

Taking this argument to a more concrete level: intensification is an area
with clear pragmatic ramifications in several directions. The uses of
intensification are several; e.g. in (a) it can be said to have a politeness
function (cf. P. Brown & S.C. Levinson, _Politeness_, 1987 or S. Blum-Kulka
et al., eds.,_Cross-Linguistic Pragmatics_, 1992? [I can send proper
references if you like]):

(a) That hat's really/absolutely/so gorgeous! (with ecstatic intonation)

which is "more polite" than

(b) That hat's pretty. (with flat intonation)

And on the other hand there are numerous pragmatically characterizable ways
of more or less indirectly conveying intensification itself; of these we
have already spoken.

In a few words: there are various dimensions to be considered; in my
(minority, I think) opinion, to be considered by linguists.

Lindstrom is quite right: my earlier statement that "such ideas as this
[namely the "semantic continuum hypothesis" originally in question] reveal a
lack of insight into the nature of semantic and, indeed, linguistic
phenomena" could sound like an aggressive and disrespectiful way to express
my opinion. But it was not meant personally, and no offense or disrespect
was intended. I publicly apologise for the clumsy wording.


Alan R. King
Gipuzkoa, Basque Country
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