Morzycki, Marcin. 2010. ‘Metalinguistic Comparison in an Alternative Semantics for Imprecision’. Appeared in 2011 in Natural Language Semantics 19(1) 39–86. The link is to the final pre-publication version. The journal version is here. This paper extends another that appeared in the proceedings of NELS 38 under the same title (available here). The main difference is that this one spells out the compositional semantics more explicitly and includes more discussion of just how ‘metalinguistic’ metalinguistic comparatives are. BibTeX

This paper offers an analysis of metalinguistic comparatives such as more dumb than crazy in which they differ from ordinary comparatives in the scale on which they compare: ordinary comparatives use scales lexically determined by particular adjectives, but metalinguistic ones use a generally available scale of imprecision or ‘pragmatic slack’. To implement this idea, I propose a novel compositional implementation of Lasersohn (1999)’s pragmatic halos account of imprecision—one that represents clusters of similar meanings as Hamblin alternatives (Hamblin 1973). In the theory that results, existential closure over alternatives mediates between alternative-sets and meanings in which imprecision has been resolved. I then articulate a version of this theory in which the alternatives are not related meanings but rather related utterances, departing significantly from Lasersohn’s original conception. Although such a theory of imprecision is more clearly ‘metalinguistic’, the evidence for it from metalinguistic comparatives in English is surprisingly limited. The overall picture that emerges is one in which the grammatical distinction between ordinary and metalinguistic comparatives tracks the independently-motivated distinction between vagueness and imprecision.

comparatives, imprecision, metalinguistic phenomena, degrees, alternatives