Archive | June 2013

Special announcement: talk by Jakub Dotlacil and Rick Nouwen (Utrecht)

Jakub Dotlacil and Rick Nouwen are organizing a talk in Utrecht entitled The comparative as a relation between degree pluralities. The talk will be on Thursday July 4, and everyone is welcome to attend!

Date: Thursday, July 4, 2013
Time: 15:00 – 17:00
Location: Utrecht, Trans 8, room 0.19


A central issue in the literature on comparatives concerns examples like (1), in which a distributive quantifier appears in the than-clause. An example like (1) receives an incorrect interpretation in classical semantic approaches to comparatives, namely, (1) is true if and only if John is taller than the shortest girl. This is amended in recent literature (Schwarzschild and Wilkinson, 2002, Heim, 2006, among others), but at a cost of introducing complex objects and mechanisms that have no application outside of the domain of degrees.

(1) John is taller than every girl is.

We propose that (1) and related examples can be correctly dealt with if in parallel to the domain of events and entities, degrees come in the form of pluralities as well as singularities. On top of that, the usual operations applicable to pluralities of events and entities (leading to distributive, collective and cumulative readings) apply to the comparative relation too. From this perspective, (1) becomes a case of a distributive reading. In the talk, we will discuss lesser known examples, showing the existence of collective and cumulative readings of comparison.

June 27: Lisa Bylinina (Utrecht) – UiL OTS

We are happy to announce that on Thursday, June 27, Lisa Bylinina (Utrecht University) will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht entitled Purpose-relativity in degree constructions. We hope to see you all there! (Please note the slightly unusual time slot.)

Date: Thursday, June 27, 2013
Time: 15:30 – 17:30
Location: Utrecht, Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, room 1.06 (Stijlkamer)


I discuss constructions involving a positive (unmarked) gradable adjective and an infinitival clause, such as (1-2):

(1) “War and Peace” is a long book to read in one day.
(2) John is a bit tall to drive this car.

The infinitival clause overtly specifies a “purpose” or “goal” over which the standard of the gradable adjective is evaluated — the book that would be considered long to read in one day doesn’t have to be long in general, etc.

The ‘purpose-relativity’ in the interpretation of the positive form of gradable adjectives has been treated as a largely pragmatic phenomenon — the interpretational effect is derived by mechanisms of prominence of a certain (modalized) set of individuals (Fleisher 2008, 2011).

I argue against the existing ‘pragmatic’ analysis. A closer look at the mechanisms underlying the effect of the infinitival clause is much more local, structural, and compositional than it could seem on the surface.

I suggest that the infinitival clause in (1) denotes a degree and directly serves as an argument of the positive morpheme. This makes these expressions much closer to other standard-denoting expressions, quite like ‘than’-phrases in comparative constructions. I extend the analysis to cases like (2), where the gradable adjective is not in the attributive position in a DP. I show that directly applying the analysis to the attributive case won’t work, and propose a type-shifting analysis (triggered by the low degree modifier ‘a bit’). I also discuss the consequences of my analysis for the debate on the nature and existence of a silent positive morpheme.