Morzycki, Marcin. 2010. ‘Adjectival Extremeness: Degree Modification and Contextually Restricted Scales’. To appear in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. The link is to a not-quite-final version. BibTeX

This paper argues that degree modifiers such as flat-out, downright, positively, and straight-up constitute a distinct natural class specialized for modifying extreme adjectives (such as gigantic, fantastic, or gorgeous), and that extreme adjectives themselves come in two varieties: ones that encode extremeness as part of their lexical semantics and ones that can acquire it on the basis of contextual factors. These facts suggest that a theory is required of what it means for an adjective to be ‘extreme’ in the relevant sense. I propose one, based on the idea that in any given context, we restrict our attention to a particular salient portion of a scale. To reflect this, I suggest that quantification over degrees is—like quantification in other domains—contextually restricted. Extreme adjectives and corresponding degree modifiers can thus both be understood as a means of signaling that a degree lies outside a contextually-provided range.

degree modifiers, gradability, extreme adjectives, domain restrictions, context sensitivity, scale structure