Linguistics and English Language

Linguistic Circle

Speaker: Rick Nouwen (University of Utrecht)

Title: From connotation to intensification: the semantics/pragmatics of deadjectival intensifiers

Abstract: Deadjectival intensifiers (e.g. "terribly" in "terribly nice") are bleached, meaning that the lexical content of the adjectival base (e.g. "terrible") is not conveyed in any way when the adverb is used as an intensifier. This observation has led to many proposals where such deadjectival adverbs of degree have extremely impoverished lexical content.

In this talk I argue that the lexical content of the adjectival base of an intensifier, and in particular its connotative meaning, is directly relevant for how intensification works semantically and pragmatically. In particular, I highlight two generalisations that have remained unaccounted for so far. First, evaluative adjectives with a negative connotation tend to turn into deadjectival intensifiers expressing high degree, while adjectives with a positive evaluative connotation make intensifiers of medium degree. (Compare, for instance, "terribly" with "fairly"). Second, negative modal adjectives can form deadjectival intensifiers, but positive ones cannot. (Compare, for instance, "Sue is unusually tall" with "?Sue is usually tall").

I will argue that a relatively simple intersective semantics for evaluative and modal adverbs accounts for these observations, but that we can only show this if we supplement that semantic analysis with a probabilistic pragmatic component.

Contact details

Linguistic Circle committee

Sep 15 2022 -

Linguistic Circle

2022-09-15: From connotation to intensification: the semantics/pragmatics of deadjectival intensifiers

Online via link invitation and room G.06, 50 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LH