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Towards a grammar of vagueness

Dr. Chris Kennedy

Tuesday, April 13, 2004, 01:00pm - 02:00pm

Department of Linguistics, Northwestern University

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Towards a grammar of vagueness

This talk discusses the grammatical principles governing the interpretation of a particular class of vague expressions: terms that describe gradable properties, such as 'tall', 'expensive', 'full', and 'wet'. The standard analysis of such expressions is that their meanings involve reference to a contextually determined 'standard of comparison'. On this view, 'X is tall', for example, means something like 'X's height is greater than a standard of height for things like X'. In fact, however, the range of interpretations that gradable predicates may have is actually much broader than has standardly been assumed, and in the first part of this talk I provide a description of, and evidence for, this variability. In the second part of the talk, I develop an analysis that derives the observed range of interpretations in terms of the interaction of the scalar properties of gradable predicates and general constraints on semantic (or possibly pragmatic) economy and strength.

Dr. Chris Kennedy