Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 513–565 | Cite as

Mandarin hen and Universal Markedness in gradable adjectives

Article

Abstract

Under some conditions, gradable adjectives in Mandarin must co-occur with overt degree morphology (most neutrally, hen ‘very’) for positive interpretation; otherwise, a comparative interpretation results. This paper argues that this phenomenon is the consequence of two interacting factors: (1) Universally, whereas comparative semantics is provided by a (possibly covert) morpheme in syntax, positive semantics is provided by a type-shifting rule that does not project in syntax, and (2) The T[+V] constraint: in Mandarin, the direct complement to T(ense) must either be (an extended projection of) a verb or a functional morpheme that can in principle combine with (an extended projection of) a verb. Consequently, a superficially bare adjectival complement to T may project a null comparative morpheme in order to satisfy T[+V], but positive semantics is ruled out because it does not affect the AP categorial status of the predicate and hence does not satisfy T[+V]. The semantically bleached degree adverb hen can be used instead to approximate positive semantics in a way that satisfies T[+V]. This proposal makes the right predictions about the conditions under which bare adjectives do receive a positive interpretation, namely, when other functional elements intervene between T and AP, and when T is not projected. An important consequence of the proposal is that despite surface appearances, Mandarin does not counterexemplify the universal generalization that comparatives are the marked member of the positive/comparative opposition; on the contrary, its proper analysis actually depends on the idea that comparative-form adjectives involve extra structure.

Keywords

Mandarin Chinese Gradable adjectives Degree modification Universal markedness 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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