Morzycki, Marcin. 2011. ‘The Several Faces of Adnominal Degree Modification’. Appeared in 2012 in Jaehoon Choi, E. Alan Hogue, Jeffrey Punske, Deniz Tat, Jessamyn Schertz, and Alex Trueman, eds., the Proceedings of the 29th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL). Cascadilla Press, Somerville, Mass. BibTeX

This paper argues that adnominal degree modifiers differ from their more familiar adjectival cousins in that a major axis of variation among them is the means by which a gradable predicate is derived from a noun meaning. The empirical starting point is the contrast between the degree modifiers real, big, and utter, each of which imposes different constraints on what nouns it can modify. The real class is relatively unconstrained, and seems to achieve gradable interpretations via scales of prototypicality. Size adjectives such as big are less flexible: real sportscar has a degree reading but big sportscar does not. Degree modifiers such as utter are more constrained still: big smoker has a degree reading but #utter smoker is ill-formed. I suggest that both big and utter access dimensions of gradability lexically provided by the noun, but that utter also imposes the presupposition that the noun provides only one such dimension. The hope is that a theory of such distinctions represents a step toward a typology of adnominal degree expressions, which may in turn reveal something more general about how nominal and adjectival gradability differ.

gradability, degree modifiers, adjectives, nouns, lexical semantics, prototypicality