We are happy to announce a talk by Ramona Hiller (Frankfurt) in the Semantics Colloquium.

The talk will take place on campus in IG 4.301.

Title: A Corpus Study on German Privative Adjectives based on joint work with Carla Spellerberg

Date: December 8

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct


In this talk, I present a corpus-based study of nine counterfactual German adjectives that allegedly behave privatively which was conducted by a fellow student, Carla Spellerberg, and me in 2021.

Since Partee’s (2010) influential suggestion that privative adjectives actually behave subsective on the coerced denotation of the noun they combine with, a lot of research has investigated the way these adjectives shift the noun denotation. Our intention with this thorough look at a large number of German adjective-noun combinations featuring alleged privative adjectives is twofold. On the one hand, we intend to learn more about noun shifts that can actually be observed in natural language when privative adjectives are involved and how often subsective and privative uses of the respective adjective occur. This allows us to add more much-needed empirical evidence to a discussion often exclusively based on theoretical arguments. On the other hand, our study adds data from German to the discussion of privative adjectives that often focuses on English privative adjectives or is even based on English data exclusively. In general, there has been, to the best of our knowledge, not much or close to no work on the German equivalents of English fake and other, comparable adjectives. Our study therefore also intends to determine whether the German equivalents of famous English privative adjectives are also privative in German, and if so or if not, how they behave and shift the denotation of the nouns accompanying them.

Manual annotation of the ten most common adjective-noun combinations involving each of our nine alleged privative adjectives reveals that the results regarding the behavior of English fake reported on in Cappelle et al. (2018) extend to German. We find that all of the adjectives under investigation here mostly behave subsectively and that all adjectives consistently either behave subsectively or privatively depending on the adjective-noun compound. Although all theoretical accounts of privative adjectives we discuss run into problems when it comes to explaining our data, we argue that Dual Content Semantics (Del Pinal 2015; Del Pinal 2018) as well as approaches featuring shifting operators based on distributional semantics (Asher et al. 2016) provide a fruitful basis for explaining the behavior of privative adjectives.