Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 843–879 | Cite as

Intensification without degrees cross-linguistically

  • Andrea Beltrama
  • M. Ryan Bochnak


In this paper, we examine the semantics of two cross-categorial modifiers that receive an interpretation of intensification: -issimo in Italian, and šému in Washo. Given that both modifiers can combine with a wide range of categories, including those not typically considered grammatically gradable, we argue against an analysis of these modifiers along the lines of e.g., Kennedy and McNally (Language 81(2):345–381, 2005) for very, as uniformly boosting a degree standard. Rather, we argue that the type of modification found with -issimo and šému is one that manipulates a contextual parameter present in the modified expressions, and more specifically universally quantifies over possible contexts of evaluation. Such an analysis allows us to account for the wide distribution of these modifiers, and their co-occurrence with categories that do not encode degree variables. We therefore argue for a typological split in the landscape of intensifiers, both across and within languages, between those that track degree variables, and those that do not.


Intensification Modification Gradability Degree semantics Expressives Italian Washo 



We would like to thank audiences at the workshop “Modification (with & without modifiers)—MDF2011” in Madrid, Semantics of Underrepresented Languages of the Americas 6 in Manchester, and Illinois Language and Linguistics Society 4 for feedback on various versions of this work. We are particularly grateful for helpful discussion and comments from Heather Burnett, Itamar Francez, Daniel Gutzmann, Vera Hohaus, Stefan Hofstetter, Chris Kennedy, Peter Klecha, Yaron McNabb, Maria Napoli, Malvina Nissim and Galit Sassoon. Comments from three anonymous reviewers also greatly improved this paper, especially in terms of organization and argumentation. Ryan Bochnak would like to thank Washo elders Ramona Dick and Steven James for their patience and help with the Washo language. Bochnak’s fieldwork was supported by grants from the Jacobs Fund of the Whatcom Museum, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Science Foundation under grant #1155196. We also thank Elena Castroviejo and Berit Gehrke for organizing, editing, and including us in this special issue. All errors and oversights are our own responsibility.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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