Compounded Scales
Alan Bale
April 2020

Most semantic analyses of gradable adjectives have assumed that there is a direct link between adjectives and degrees, or alternatively between adjectives and delineations, extents, or intervals which exhibit many of the same formal properties as degrees. However, there are significant problems with this hypothesis when it comes to providing a compositional interpretation for comparative sentences that involve conjunction, as in "Seymour is more handsome and talented than Patrick is". The problems are two-fold. First, many adjective pairs (e.g., "handsome" and "talented") are not commensurable---they involve different types of degrees. This incommensurability becomes problematic when the two adjectives are combined by "and". Second, even when adjective pairs are commensurable (such as "long" and "wide"), interpreting the two adjectives as directly involving degrees yields truth conditions that are often dependent on only one of the adjectival dimensions. For example, the truth conditions for a sentence like "This floorboard is less long and wide than that floorboard is" would depend solely on measurements of width---measurements of length would be inconsequential. Obviously such an analysis is not empirically supported. One alternative to linking adjectives directly to degrees is to interpret them as more primitive building blocks from which scales and degrees can be constructed (see Bale 2006, 2011). This paper outlines such an alternative. It proposes that gradable adjectives should be treated as binary relations between individuals, not between individuals and degrees. Unlike the traditional degree analysis, this type of interpretation provides adequate truth conditions for sentences with conjoined adjectives.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/005196
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Draft of chapter in Peter Hallman (ed), 2020, Interactions of Degree and Quantification. Syntax and Semantics, Volume 42. Leiden/Boston: Brill. p. 205-230.
keywords: gradable adjectives, comparatives, degree semantics, boolean conjunction, binary relations, derived scales, semantics
previous versions: v1 [May 2020]
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