We are happy to announce a talk by Carla Umbach (University of Cologne) and Britta Stolterfoht (University of Tübingen) in the Semantics Colloquium.

The talk will take place online. If you want to participate via zoom, please register via email to s.walter@em.uni-frankfurt.de.

Title: Demonstratives of Manner, Quality and Degree – constraints on features of comparison 

Date: December 16

Time: 4 pm – 6 pm ct


Demonstratives of manner, quality and degree occur across languages, e.g. Turkish böyle, Polish tak and German so (König & Umbach 2018). In (1) German so is used to express a quality modifying a car: 

(1) (speaker points at a car): 

Anna hat auch so ein Auto.

 ‚Anna has a car like this, too.‘ 

From the point of view of semantics, demonstratives of manner, quality and degree pose the problem of how to reconcile their demonstrative characteristics with their modifying capacity. Umbach & Gust (2014) suggest that these demonstratives are directly referential but express similarity (instead of identity) to the target of the demonstration gesture. Similarity is spelled out in multi-dimensional attribute spaces. 

The notion of similarity would be trivial without specifying the relevant features of comparison. When combined with adjectives (so groß ‚tall like this‘) the feature of comparison is given by the adjective. When combined with nouns and verbs (so ein Auto / so tanzen ‚a car like this, dance like this‘) features of comparison are, first of all, determined by context. It can be observed, however, that there are constraints imposed by the respective noun or verb. In the example in (2) and (3) so is used anaphorically picking up a property mentioned in the preceding context. In (2) being Japanese is easily picked up, leading to the interpretation that Berta has a Japanese car. In contrast, being new does not qualify as a feature of comparison – the second sentence cannot be understood such that Berta has a new car. Similarly, in (3) preparing a chicken in the wok qualifies as features of comparison whereas preparing it in the garden does not. 

(2) Anna hat ein japanisches Auto / ein neues Auto. Berta hat auch so ein Auto (nämlich ein japanisches Auto / *nämlich ein neues Auto). 

‚Anna has a Japanese car / a new car. Berta has such a car, too (namely a Japanese car / a new car).‘ 

(3) Anna hat das Huhn im Wok zubereitet / im Garten zubereitet. Berta hat die Ente auch so zubereitet (nämlich im Wok / *nämlich im Garten). 

‚Anna prepared the chicken in the wok / in the garden. Berta prepared the duck like this, too (namely in the wok / in the garden).‘ 

In this talk, an experimental study will be presented investigating restrictions on features of comparison. Acceptability ratings were collected for nominal and verbal stimuli analogous to the examples in (2)/(3). The results of the experiment point to findings in Cognitive Psychology on kind formation, in particular to the notion of principled connections between kinds and properties (Prasada & Dilingham 2006), and to findings in verbal semantics on the distinction between external and internal manner modification (Maienborn & Schäfer 2011).