Boundedness and relativity
A contrastive study of English and Russian
It is often assumed that relative adjectives (e.g. ‘long’, ‘old’) evoke unbounded scales and are, therefore, incompatible with maximizers (e.g. ‘completely’) and approximators (e.g. ‘almost’). In contrast, absolute adjectives which are felicitous with maximizers (e.g. ‘completely full’) and approximators (e.g. ‘almost full’) are argued to trigger bounded scales. This paper investigates whether the semantic typology of gradable adjectives developed for Germanic languages can be extended to non-Germanic languages by comparing the distribution of relative adjectives with totality modifiers in English and Russian corpora. In line with previous research, the corpus analysis shows that English relative adjectives are associated with fully unbounded scales and are very infrequent in combination with maximizers and approximators. In contrast, Russian relative adjectives evoke half-bounded scales. Therefore, relative adjectives denoting less of a property (e.g. korotkij “short”, dešëvyj “cheap”) are quite frequently modified by maximizing adverbs in Russian. However, unlike maximum-standard absolute adjectives, Russian relative adjectives are incompatible with approximators. It is concluded that there is no universal one-to-one relationship between adjective types and scale types.
Keywords: relative adjectives, boundedness hypothesis, scalar structure, degree modification, English/Russian
Published online: 04 April 2011
Cited by 2 other publications
Tribushinina, Elena & Elena Dubinkina
Van Goethem, Kristel & Isa Hendrikx
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