Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 39–86

Metalinguistic comparison in an alternative semantics for imprecision

Article

Abstract

This paper offers an analysis of metalinguistic comparatives such as more dumb than crazy in which they differ from ordinary comparatives in the scale on which they compare: ordinary comparatives use scales lexically determined by particular adjectives, but metalinguistic ones use a generally-available scale of imprecision or ‘pragmatic slack’. To implement this idea, I propose a novel compositional implementation of the Lasersohnian pragmatic-halos account of imprecision—one that represents clusters of similar meanings as Hamblin alternatives. In the theory that results, existential closure over alternatives mediates between alternative-sets and meanings in which imprecision has been resolved. I then articulate a version of this theory in which the alternatives are not related meanings but rather related utterances, departing significantly from Lasersohn’s original conception. Although such a theory of imprecision is more clearly ‘metalinguistic’, the evidence for it from metalinguistic comparatives in English is surprisingly limited. The overall picture that emerges is one in which the grammatical distinction between ordinary and metalinguistic comparatives tracks the independently motivated distinction between vagueness and imprecision.

Keywords

Comparatives Imprecision Metalinguistic phenomena Degrees Alternatives 

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and LanguagesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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