Gradability in the Nominal Domain

Author: Camelia Constantinescu
LOT Number: 288
ISBN: 978-94-6093-072-0
Pages: 265
Year: 2011
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Gradability in the
Nominal Domain

This dissertation investigates whether and how gradability is manifested in the nominal domain,
as well as the implications this has for theories of the representation of gradability.
It is shown that the various gradability diagnostics proposed in the
literature not only yield different results, but that they do not actually work as
could be expected. In case after case, other factors turn out to underlie the noted
effects: epistemicity and evidentiality (cf. the epistemic verb seem and real-type
adjectives), the expression of a value judgment (e.g. N of an N constructions),
the delineation of salient sub-kinds identifiable by natural consequences
(cf. internal such) and abstract size modification (e.g. when a size adjective like
big modifies a noun denoting an instance of a property or a set of individuals
defined in terms of such an abstract object).
Our investigation leads to the unexpected conclusion that there are no
grammatical contexts in the nominal domain that are exclusively reserved for a
particular class of nouns that could properly be called gradable. As a result, there
is no motivation for postulating a degree structure in the syntactic representation
of nouns. In addition, there are no expressions performing the type of semantic
operations familiar from degree modification in the adjectival domain that would
indicate the existence of a grammatically accessible gradable structure in the
semantics of nouns at the lexical level. The tale of this dissertation is therefore
a cautionary one: arguments to reduce gradability in the nominal and in the
adjectival domain to the same phenomenon are misguided.
This study shows the importance of a cross-categorial perspective for a
better understanding of gradability. It is of interest to a general syntactic and
semantic readership

Gradability in the
Nominal Domain

This dissertation investigates whether and how gradability is manifested in the nominal domain,
as well as the implications this has for theories of the representation of gradability.
It is shown that the various gradability diagnostics proposed in the
literature not only yield different results, but that they do not actually work as
could be expected. In case after case, other factors turn out to underlie the noted
effects: epistemicity and evidentiality (cf. the epistemic verb seem and real-type
adjectives), the expression of a value judgment (e.g. N of an N constructions),
the delineation of salient sub-kinds identifiable by natural consequences
(cf. internal such) and abstract size modification (e.g. when a size adjective like
big modifies a noun denoting an instance of a property or a set of individuals
defined in terms of such an abstract object).
Our investigation leads to the unexpected conclusion that there are no
grammatical contexts in the nominal domain that are exclusively reserved for a
particular class of nouns that could properly be called gradable. As a result, there
is no motivation for postulating a degree structure in the syntactic representation
of nouns. In addition, there are no expressions performing the type of semantic
operations familiar from degree modification in the adjectival domain that would
indicate the existence of a grammatically accessible gradable structure in the
semantics of nouns at the lexical level. The tale of this dissertation is therefore
a cautionary one: arguments to reduce gradability in the nominal and in the
adjectival domain to the same phenomenon are misguided.
This study shows the importance of a cross-categorial perspective for a
better understanding of gradability. It is of interest to a general syntactic and
semantic readership

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