Interpreting English comparatives

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Abstract

This paper attempts to clarify the way in which we interpret English comparatives. It shows that recognition of a comparative depends primarily on the recognition of the comparative operator, cl. The cl has two constituents (1) a comparative marker which, because there are less than a dozen of them, makes cl readily recognizable; and (2) a scale marker. I argue that comparisons are made on a particular scale, and that scales have a supra end and a sub end; the scale marker in cl identifies which end. Thus the combination of scale marker and comparative marker determines the proper interpretation of the comparative operator, and hence the comparative relation. This interpretation is affected by the 'committedness' (Cruse 1976) and perhaps 'pull' (Rusiecki 1985) of the scale marker. A comparison identifies the relative locations of the comparands X and Y on the scale named in the cl. X, the primum comparationis, is identified through the scope of cl. Y, the secundum comparationis, is recognized through the fact that it is normally a semantic-syntactic parallel to X in a clause introduced by the c2: c2 is normally than or as. The paper ends with detailed discussion of the means for translating English comparative constructions into an interpretative metalanguage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-50
Number of pages50
JournalJournal of Semantics
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1986

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