We are happy to announce a talk by Nicole Gotzner (ZAS) at the Semantics Colloquium.

Please note that the talk will already begin at 3 pm sharp.

Please register beforehand (s.walter@em.uni-frankfurt.de) to receive the access data to zoom on Thursday shortly before the talk starts.

Title: The use and interpretation of gradable adjectives

Date:December 3

Time: 3 pm – 5 pm st


The use and interpretation of gradable adjectives

Gradable adjectives like tall are well studied in semantics (e.g., Kennedy, 2007) but the pragmatic inferences associated with such adjectives remain underexplored. The present talk targets the role of different semantic and contextual factors in the use and interpretation of bare and negated adjectives. 
In the first part, I will demonstrate an interplay between the properties of the measurement scale underlying the semantics of adjectives and their associated implicatures (Gotzner, Solt & Benz, 2018a,b; Leffel, Cremers, Gotzner, & Romoli, 2019). Then, I present a novel experimental paradigm (Gotzner & Kiziltan, to appear) indicating that participants use distinct portions of a scale when interpreting statements involving bare adjectives such as tall and gigantic. Negated forms (e.g., not tall), on the other hand, tended to yield a middling interpretation. The results were in line with the so-called polarity asymmetry of negative strengthening with negated positive terms (not tall) being pragmatically strengthened more than double negatives (not short). Finally, I will present a study testing the politeness explanation of this polarity asymmetry (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Horn, 1989). According to this explanation, speakers use more complex negated expressions in order to mitigate the face threat posed by the bare simpler utterance (e.g., short). Crucially, simple negative but not positive terms pose a potential face threat towards the addressee. Our study showed that sociological variables such as the power relation and gender of interlocutors affect the interpretation of negated adjectives (Gotzner & Mazzarella, in revision). But we also find evidence that the polarity asymmetry of negative strengthening is the result of adjectival polarity per se rather than face-management concerns (Mazzarella & Gotzner, accepted). 
Overall, the findings show that scale structure, polarity and the complexity of alternative expressions crucially affect the derivation of implicatures. Thus, models of the meaning of gradable adjectives should integrate multiple grammatical and pragmatic factors.