Comparative Illusions in Journal of Semantics

Now out, "The Anatomy of a Comparative Illusion" by Alexis Wellwood, 2014 alum and current Assistant Professor of Philosophy at USC, along with USC colleague and 2008 UMD visitor Roumyana Pancheva, former advisor Valentine Hacquard, and Colin Phillips.

The paper is about comparative constructions, such as More people have been to Russia than I have, that are initially reported to be acceptable and meaningful, but are judged to be incoherent upon reflection. Using acceptability judgments and verbatim recall tests, it investigates four hypotheses about the source of this 'comparative illusion': a shallow syntactic parser, some type of repair by ellipsis, an incorrectly-resolved lexical ambiguity, or a persistent interpretation of the sentence as comparing numbers of events, as in "People have been to Russia more (often) than I have." The results support only the final hypothesis, that comparative illusions reflect speakers’ initial attempts to compare numbers of events, and fail to notice when this interpretation becomes grammatically unavailable at the than-clause.