Raising and resolving issues with scalar modifiers

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Elizabeth Coppock
Thomas Brochhagen


We argue that the superlative modifiers at least and at most quantify over a scale of answers to the current question under discussion (and in this sense, resolve issues), and that they draw attention to the individual possibilities along the scale (and in this sense, raise issues for discussion). The point of departure is a simple analysis on which at least denotes what only presupposes, and at most denotes what only contributes as its ordinary atissue content. This analysis captures the truth conditions, focus-sensitivity, and distribution of superlative modifiers but leaves some pragmatic facts unexplained. We enrich the simple account with unrestricted inquisitive semantics in order to explain the fact that superlative modifiers give rise to ignorance implicatures while comparative modifiers like more and less do not, the fact that superlative modifiers do not give rise to scalar implicatures, and two puzzles concerning the interaction between superlative modifiers and deontic modals. We argue that this proposal provides the most empirically successful published account of superlative modifiers to date.


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Elizabeth Coppock, University of Gothenburg

Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science