The role of dimensions in classification under predicates predicts their status in degree constructions

Abstract

This paper presents an experimental study of multidimensional gradability across categories. The study tests whether and to what extent the naturalness of multidimensional adjectives and nouns in degree constructions is predictable from their conceptual-semantic properties – the way their dimensions are typically bound to create a unified interpretation. Past research suggests that binding by counting operations is common in multidimensional adjectives, possible in certain nouns (labeled additive nouns), and rare in others (dubbed multiplicative nouns; Hampton et al. 2009). We hypothesize that the higher naturalness of adjectives in degree constructions (Kennedy 1999) stems from a preference for dimension-binding by counting operations. Accordingly, we predict that additive nouns would be judged more natural than multiplicative nouns in any construction whose interpretation involves dimension-counting, e.g., dimensional quantifiers (as in: in {some, most, every} respect}) and degree modifiers (as in more P {than y, than Q, than y is Q}). The results of a naturalness survey involving 139 English speakers confirm our predictions. Moreover, our results indicate that the naturalness of a predicate in degree constructions and dimensional-quantifier constructions are tightly correlated, suggesting that dimension accessibility for counting is indeed an important predictor of morphological gradability. 

Keywords

degree, adjective, noun, comparison, dimension, similarity

How to Cite

Sassoon, G. & Fadlon, J., (2017) “The role of dimensions in classification under predicates predicts their status in degree constructions”, Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 2(1): 42. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.155

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Authors

Galit Weidman Sassoon (Department of English Literature and Linguistics, Bar Ilan University)
Julie Fadlon (Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego)

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