The semantics and probabilistic pragmatics of deadjectival intensifiers

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Rick Nouwen


Intensifiers (e.g. horribly in horribly warm) are usually deadjectival adverbs. I show that the lexical content of the adjectival base, and in particular its evaluative meaning, is directly relevant for the degree intensifying function of these adverbs. In particular, I highlight two generalisations that have remained unaccounted for so far. First, evaluative adjectives with a negative evaluative meaning tend to turn into deadjectival intensifiers expressing high degree, while adjectives with a positive meaning make intensifiers of medium degree. Second, negative modal adjectives can form deadjectival intensifiers, but positive ones cannot. I will argue that a relatively simple intersective semantics for evaluative and modal adverbs accounts for these observations, but that we can only show this if we supplement that semantic analysis with a probabilistic pragmatic component.


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