The Cognitive Roots of Adjectival Meaning
Michael Glanzberg (Northwestern University)
Friday, April 13th at 3:30 pm
UCLA School of Law, Room 1430
In this paper, I illustrate a way that work in cognitivepsychology can fruitfully interact withtruth-conditional semantics. A widely held view takes the meanings of gradableadjectives to be measure functions, which map objects to degrees on a scale.Scales come equipped with dimensions that fix what the degrees are. FollowingBartsch and Vennemann, I observe that this allows dimensions to play the roleof lexical roots, that provide the distinctive contents for each lexical entry.I review evidence that the grammar provides a limited range of scalestructures, presumably dense linear orderings with a limited range oftopological properties. I then turn to how the content of the root can befixed. In the verbal domain, there is evidence suggesting roots are linked toconcepts. In many cases for adjectives, it is not concepts but approximatemagnitude representation systems that fix root contents. However, thesemagnitude representation systems are approximate or analog, and do not provideprecise values. I argue that the roots of adjectives like these provide a weak,discrimination-based constraint on a grammatically fixed scale structure. Otheradjectives can find concepts to fix roots, which can support a well-knownequivalence class construction which can fix precise values on a scale. Iconclude that though adjectives have a uniform truth-conditional semantics,they show substantial differences in the cognitive sources of their rootmeanings. This shows that there are (at least) two sub-classes of adjectives,with roots fixed by different mechanisms and with different degrees ofprecision, and showing very different cognitive properties.