Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

New from Cambridge University Press!


Voice Quality

By John H. Esling, Scott R. Moisik, Allison Benner, Lise Crevier-Buchman

Voice Quality "The first description of voice quality production in forty years, this book provides a new framework for its study: The Laryngeal Articulator Model. Informed by instrumental examinations of the laryngeal articulatory mechanism, it revises our understanding of articulatory postures to explain the actions, vibrations and resonances generated in the epilarynx and pharynx."

New from Oxford University Press!


Let's Talk

By David Crystal

Let's Talk "Explores the factors that motivate so many different kinds of talk and reveals the rules we use unconsciously, even in the most routine exchanges of everyday conversation."

E-mail this page 1

We Have a New Site!

With the help of your donations we have been making good progress on designing and launching our new website! Check it out at!
***We are still in our beta stages for the new site--if you have any feedback, be sure to let us know at***

Dissertation Information

Title: The Grammar of Tolerance: On Vagueness, Context-Sensitivity, and the Origin of Scale Structure Add Dissertation
Author: Heather Burnett Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2012
Linguistic Subfield(s): Philosophy of Language; Pragmatics; Semantics;
Director(s): Edward Keenan
Dominique Sportiche
Edward Stabler
Jessica Rett
Paul Égré

Abstract: This thesis presents a new theory of the relationship between context-
sensitivity, vagueness, and adjectival scale structure. From an
empirical point of view, I argue that the four principle subclasses of
adjectival predicates (relative adjectives (ex. tall), total absolute
adjectives (ex. dry), partial absolute adjectives (ex. wet), and non-
scalar adjectives (ex. atomic)) can be distinguished along three
dimensions: 1) how their criteria of application can vary depending on
context; 2) how they display the characteristic properties of vague
language; and 3) what the properties of their associated orders (a.k.a.
scales) are. It has been known for a long time in the literature (cf.
Unger (1975), Pinkal (1995), Kennedy (2007), a.o.) that there exist
connections between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and scale
structure; however, a formal system that expresses these connections
has yet to be developed. By combining insights into the relationship
between context-sensitivity and scalarity from the delineation semantics
framework (Klein (1980), a.o.) with insights into the relationship
between tolerance relations and the Sorites paradox from Cobreros,
Égré, Ripley & van Rooij (2012)’s Tolerant, Classical, Strict (TCS)
framework, I propose such a logical system.

In chapter 2 ('Context-Sensitivity in the Adjectival Domain'), I present
data concerning contextual variation in the meaning of adjectival
predicates. Following previous work, I argue that relative adjectives like
'tall' and 'expensive', absolute adjectives like 'straight' and 'empty',
and non-scalar adjectives like 'prime' and 'hexagonal' all display
different context-sensitivity patterns. I give an analysis of these
patterns within a `delineation' semantics for scalar terms and discuss
the implications that this analysis has for the scales (relations with
particular ordering properties) associated with absolute and non-scalar

Chapter 3 ('Vagueness in Logic and Linguistics') serves as
‘background’ introduction to the empirical phenomenon of vagueness.

In chapter 4 ('Potential Vagueness and Scalar Asymmetries'), I present
new data concerning the distribution of the characterizing properties of
vague language presented in chapter 3. I argue that relative, absolute,
and non-scalar adjectives display different vagueness-based patterns. I
extend the delineation system proposed in chapter 2 with the TCS
system described in chapter 3 to give an analysis of these patterns.

In chapter 5 ('Adjectival Scale Structure'), following much previous
work, I present data that shows that the adjectival predicates of
different classes are associated with scales that have different
properties. Furthermore, I show that the association of particular
classes of adjectives with their particular kinds of scales is a direct
consequence of the analysis developed for accounting for vagueness
and context-sensitivity patterns in parts 1 and 2 of the dissertation. In
other words, I show that, if we have an appropriate theory of both
context-sensitivity and vagueness in the adjectival domain, we get a
theory of scale structure patterns ‘for free’.

In chapter 6 ('Delineation TCS'), I lay out the proposed logical system
in more formal manner.

Chapter 7 ('Comparison with Other Approaches') presents a
comparison between the account developed in this dissertation within
the delineation approach and the currently dominant approach for
analyzing the semantics and pragmatics of gradable expressions:
degree semantics.