PhLing: Michael Glanzberg (Northwestern)

Date: April 14 2017

Time: 1:30-3:30

Location: Kresge 3354

Title: The Cognitive Roots of Adjectival Meaning

AbstractIn this paper, I illustrate a way that work in cognitive psychology can

fruitfully interact with truth-conditional semantics.  A widely held view takes

the meanings of gradable adjectives to be measure functions, which map objects

to degrees on a scale.  Scales come equipped with dimensions that fix what the

degrees are.  Following Bartsch and Vennemann, I observe that this allows

dimensions to play the role of lexical roots, that provide the distinctive

contents for each lexical entry.  I review evidence that the grammar provides a

limited range of scale structures, presumably dense linear orderings with a

limited range of topological properties.  I then turn to how the content of the

root can be fixed.  In the verbal domain, there is evidence suggesting roots are

linked to concepts.  In many cases for adjectives, it is not concepts but

approximate magnitude representation systems that fix root contents.  However,

these magnitude representation systems are approximate or analog, and do not

provide precise values. I argue that the roots of adjectives like these

provide a weak, discrimination-based constraint on a grammatically fixed scale

structure.  Other adjectives can find concepts to fix roots, which can support a

well-known equivalence class construction which can fix precise values on a

scale.  I conclude that though adjectives have a uniform truth-conditional

semantics, they show substantial differences in the cognitive sources of their

root meanings. This shows that there are (at least) two sub-classes of

adjectives, with roots fixed by different mechanisms and with different degrees

of precision, and showing very different cognitive properties.

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