LINGUIST List 3.446

Mon 01 Jun 1992

Qs: Lists, Adjectives, Comma, Unhappier, Gopnik

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Michael Sikillian/Annotext, Lists on text processing
  • L. M. P. McPherson, Query: Adjectives versus Verbs; Attribution versus Predication
  • (. M. P. McPherson, comma-tose
  • Greg Stump, the _unhappier_ paradox
  • Pier Marco Bertinetto, Gopnik

    Message 1: Lists on text processing

    Date: 26 May 92 13:40:02 EDT
    From: Michael Sikillian/Annotext <>
    Subject: Lists on text processing

    Does anyone know whether there are any listserv or bitnet lists for text processing or linguistic software? Thank you.

    Michael Sikillian Annotext

    Message 2: Query: Adjectives versus Verbs; Attribution versus Predication

    Date: Wed, 27 May 92 02:05:49 EDQuery: Adjectives versus Verbs; Attribution versus Predication
    From: L. M. P. McPherson <>
    Subject: Query: Adjectives versus Verbs; Attribution versus Predication

    Can anyone provide examples of languages that do not appear to have a distinction between verbs and adjectives? I realise that the definitions of the categories "verb" and "adjective" are not universal and no accepted standards are available, so please describe the criteria that underly your identification of verbs and adjectives in a given language.

    In languages that have adjectives, is there always a distinction between attributive and predicative adjectives? Or do some languages lack this distinction? If some do not distinguish these two types of adjectives, do adjectives in those languages appear within a noun phrase (i.e., attributively) or after a copula (i.e., predicatively)? Or does their use fall in neither of these categories?

    Dixon (1982) claims that some languages with adjectives do not have an open/ major class of adjectives, but just a small, closed/minor class containing words that most often describe relative dimension (small, long, wide, etc.), relative age (e.g., new, young, old), value (good, bad), and colour (red, black, etc.). Are adjectives belonging to a closed/minor class used differently than adjectives from an open/major class? For example, is the attributive/ predicative distinction missing for languages that have a small, closed class of adjectives? (Examples he gives of languages with a closed/minor class of adjectives are Igbo from the Kwa subgroup of the Niger-Congo family, the Chadic language Hausa, Bantu languages, the North Australian Malak Malak, Southern Paiute, the Dravidian Pengo, the Central African Creole Sango, the Guianese language Carib, and the Nilo-Saharan language Acooli.)

    I am also interested in examples of concepts that are expressed adjectivally in one or more languages and verbally in other languages. In English, some concepts are expressed both ways; for example, the verb "to like" and the adjectival expression "to be fond of" express the same concept. Are there concepts that are routinely expressed with a verb in some languages but which are habitually expressed with an adjective in other languages? Perhaps "to like," "to need," "to want," "to sit" or other English verbs are synonymous with adjectives in some other language? Perhaps the English adjectives "fuzzy," "short," "blue," "lovely," "ardent," "difficult," or others have verbal counterparts in other languages? Nominal expressions for concepts expressed adjectivally in some languages are also of interest to me.

    Reference: Dixon, R. M. W. (1982). Where have all the adjectives gone? Berlin: Mouton.

    L.M.P. McPherson


    Message 3: comma-tose

    Date: Wed, 27 May 92 15:44:12 CScomma-tose
    From: (. M. P. McPherson <>
    Subject: comma-tose

    As the sole linguist in our English department, I get to answer the language questions that come in from the outside. One Dr. J. Holler of Paris, IL, writes to ask "What, is the word, that means, the over- use, of commas?"

    On the off-chance he means something other than commatose, perhaps one of you could help me compose a reply. I've already considered virgulitis, which in its more virulent form, becomes virgulosis. I find nothing in Fowler (sv _stops_). Should I send Dr. Holler a bill? I'm sure he'd send me one if I asked him a medical question. I doubt very much that he has any language insurance, so I may have to consider this pro bono. I am, after all, a state employee.

    Dennis Baron Dept. of English office: 217-244-0568 University of Illinois messages: 217-333-2392 608 S. Wright St fax: 217-333-4321 Urbana IL 61801

    Message 4: the _unhappier_ paradox

    Date: Fri, 29 May 92 16:33:39 ESthe _unhappier_ paradox
    From: Greg Stump <>
    Subject: the _unhappier_ paradox

    In his squib `_Unhappier_ Is Not a "Bracketing Paradox"' (LI 23 (1992), 347-352), Richard Sproat argues that _unhappier_ can be assumed to have the structure [ un [ happi er ]] for both phonological and semantic purposes. His reasoning is this. Although _un-_ is interpreted as merely contradictory negation when it combines with nonscalar adjec- tives (e.g. _uncompiled_ `not compiled'), it is interpreted as contrary negation when it combines with scalar adjectives (e.g. _unhappy_ `the opposite of happy' and not merely `not happy'). So, `[o]n analogy with the behavior of _un-_ with scalar adjectives like _happy_, ..., it follows that [ un [ happi er ]] must be interpreted as being at the opposite end of the range from _happier_' (pp.349- 350); and this, he points out, is the desired interpretation for _unhappier_.

    Sproat acknowledges that if _un-_ is interpreted as contrary rather than contradictory negation, then [[ un happi ] er ] (= his (1b)) would also yield the right interpretation for _unhappier_; `the point is that it is not _necessary_ to assume the structure in (1b) in order to get the right interpretation' (p.350n). He also ack- nowledges that _unrulier_ must be regarded as genuinely paradoxical, since *_ruly_ and *_rulier_ do not exist alongside _unruly_; thus, while the phonological structure must be [ un [ ruli er ]], the semantic structure must instead be [[ un ruli ] er ]. So his argu- ment is that _unhappier_ isn't as certain an exemplar of the _un-ADJ-er_ paradox as cases like _unrulier_.

    I have doubts about this conclusion, though:

    (i) Is it necessarily the case that the comparative form of a scalar adjective is itself scalar? Assuming that environ- ments like `very _____', `less _____', and `as _____ as Sandy' are diagnostic of scalar adjectives, _happy_ seems to be scalar, but _happier_ does not. The possibility of _much happier_ might at first seem to constitute evidence that _happier_ is scalar, but it isn't clear that _much_ isn't in fact modifying the comparative functor rather than the comparative adjective as a whole; cf. *_much happy_; _Are they much more happy?_/_Yes, much more_.

    (ii) When it combines with scalar adjectives having an inherently comparative meaning (e.g. _inferior_, _superior_), _un-_ is interpreted as contradictory rather than contrary negation. For instance, _Sandy wants to find someone uninferior to her at chess_ doesn't mean `Sandy wants to find someone superior to her at chess'.

    (iii) In many cases, even when ADJ and _un-ADJ_ coexist, distinct phonological and semantic structures must apparently be assumed; for instance, _uneasier_ must be [ un [ easi er ]] phonologically, but [[ un easi ] er ] semantically.

    (iv) Finally, as I have shown elsewhere (`A Paradigm-based Theory of Morphosemantic Mismatches', _Language_ 67 (1991), 675-725), the _unhappier_ paradox becomes completely unparadoxical when viewed as an instance of the H-application Default, a widely-motivated principle regulating the interaction of inflectional morphology with category-preserving derivation.

    Message 5: Gopnik

    Date: Fri, 29 May 92 19:02:05 SEGopnik
    From: Pier Marco Bertinetto <BERTINETIPISNSIB.bitnet>
    Subject: Gopnik

    Some time ago there was a debate on recent work by Gopnik. Could anybody give m e her email? (private answer please) ====================================================== PIER MARCO BERTINETTO SCUOLA NORMALE SUPERIORE TEL. +39/(0)50/597111 PIAZZA DEI CAVALIERI 7 FAX +39/(0)50/563513 I 56100 PISA, ITALIA ======================================================