Measuring Predicates

Alexis Wellwood

Determining the semantic content of sentences, and uncovering regularities between linguistic form and meaning, requires attending to both morphological and syntactic properties of a language with an eye to the notional categories that the various pieces of form express. In this dissertation, I investigate the morphosyntactic devices that English speakers (and speakers of other languages) can use to talk about comparisons between things: comparative sentences with, in English, more... than, as... as, too, enough, and others. I argue that a core component of all of these constructions is a unitary element expressing the concept of measurement.

The theory that I develop departs from the standard degree-theoretic analysis of the semantics of comparatives in three crucial respects: first, gradable adjectives do not (partially or wholly) denote measure functions; second, degrees are introduced compositionally; and three, the introduction of degrees arises uniformly from the semantics of the expression much. These ideas mark a return to the classic mor- phosyntactic analysis of comparatives found in Bresnan (1973), while incorporating and extending semantic insights of Schwarzschild (2002, 2006). Of major interest is how the dimensions for comparison observed across the panoply of comparative constructions vary, and these are analyzed as a consequence of what is measured (individuals, events, states, etc.), rather than which expressions invoke the measurement.

This shift in perspective leads to the observation of a number of regularities in the mapping between form and meaning that could not otherwise have been seen. First, the notion of measurement expressed across comparative constructions is familiar from some explications of that concept in measurement theory (e.g. Berka 1983). Second, the distinction between gradable and non-gradable adjectives is formally on a par with that between mass and count nouns, and between atelic and telic verb phrases. Third, comparatives are perceived to be acceptable if the domain for measurement is structured, and to be anamolous otherwise. Finally, elaborations of grammatical form reflexively affect which dimensions for comparison are available to interpretation.