MIT Workshop on Comparatives

November 13–14 2010 at MIT (32-D461)


Recent crosslinguistic studies of comparative constructions such as Beck, Oda, and Sugisaki (2004) and Kennedy (2007) among others have not only broadened our understanding of how natural language expresses comparison, but also raised theoretical issues of how languages can differ both semantically and syntactically in what types of comparison can be expressed in what forms. The aim of this workshop is to provide an opportunity for linguists in the Cambridge area (and beyond) who are interested in this topic to share their recent findings and discuss their implications on the crosslinguistic typology of comparative constructions.

Invited speakers


November 13 (Saturday)

Coffee + Breakfast
The Derivation and Distribution of than-Clauses
Invited speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst), presenting joint work with Shoichi Takahashi
It has been noted in the literature on comparative clauses that comparative clauses can appear in structures that sometimes have the hallmarks of subordination and sometimes of coordination. We will take up two cases to make sense of the subordination/coordination dichotomy. The first concerns a proposal by Lechner that assumes a subordinated structure to allow for raising of the compared constituent in comparatives out of the than-clause followed by extraposition of the than-XP resulting in a coordinated structure. We argue for an implementation of Lechner's proposal that involve Late Merge of the than-clause in the extraposed position together with a matching analysis. The second concerns a proposal by Osborne to regulate the clause-medial distribution of than-phrases in terms of the subordination/coordination distinction. Osborne's proposal is couched in terms of a notion of 'functional equivalence'. We suggest that the effects of 'functional equivalence' can be derived from a principle of focus resolution.
Surface Syntax and Semantics: A Transparent Account of French Comparatives
Patrick Rich (Harvard)
A Conceptual Analysis of Degrees and its Implications on Comparatives
Yuncheng Zhou (MIT)
In this talk, I will propose and develop a conceptual analysis of degrees, arguing against realist views of degrees. Degrees are nothing more than a conceptual apparatus for ordering things. This brings about a pragmatic mechanism from which semantic understanding of gradable predicates is generated, providing a different perspective on interpreting comparatives.
Independent Dependency in the Mandarin bi Comparative
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (MIT)
Recent analyses of the Mandarin bi comparative (Xiang 2005, Erlewine 2007, Lin 2009) assume a "direct analysis" à la Heim (1985) whereby the semantics of the comparative applies the single gradable predicate to both the standard and the target. In this talk I present a slew of evidence for syntactic dependencies (movement chains) which exist simultaneously between the predicate and the target and between the predicate and the standard. Both the target and the standard are thus shown to be independently dependent on the predicate of comparison—a hypothesis I dub "Independent Dependency."
One potential technical implementation of this idea using Sharing (multidominance; Gračanin-Yukšek 2007) will be presented.
The Bare Comparative in Chinese
Louis Liu (Harvard)
“Incomplete” Comparatives
Invited speaker: Roger Schwarzchild (Rutgers)
In more expensive than the hat, the comparative marker is more and the standard phrase is than the hat. Languages allow for comparatives that may be missing either one of these. I noticed a correlation between the ability to omit the comparative marker and the form of the head of the standard phrase. I try to explain that correlation. The distribution and interpretation of comparatives with no standard phrase helps to shed light on the contribution made by standard phrases when they are present.
Dinner at Atasca
We welcome all participants but unfortunately funding for dinner is limited to speakers.

November 14 (Sunday)

Epistemic Wa and Negative Islands in Japanese
Invited speakers: Bernhard Schwarz and Junko Shimoyama (McGill)
Splitting POS: Evidence from Navajo for Two POS Morphemes
Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (UMass Amherst)
In Navajo, all adjectival verb stems can be marked by morphology, POS, which I have previously assumed to have the meaning in (1), modeled on proposals by Kennedy (2007, ‘Vagueness and Grammar’, Linguistics and Philosophy). As in English, Navajo POS-marked adjectival verbs are found outside of degree constructions (e.g., John is POS-tall). In contrast with English, however, POS-marked verbs can also be used in a subset of degree constructions, including the comparison of superiority and equative constructions.
In this presentation, I demonstrate that a subset of POS-marked verbs do not obligatorily receive a norm-related interpretation when used in these constructions. I argue that Navajo has a second ‘POS’ morpheme shown in (2), whose purpose is to bind the degree produced by applying the measure function g to x but not relate this degree to the contextual standard of comparison. The distribution of POSu is determined by two principles, Avoid Synonymy and Avoid Uninformativity. After motivating the two POS morphemes, I situate the proposal for Navajo in the context of cross-linguistic variation in the form and meaning of degree constructions, considering in particular languages that use only (apparently) POS-marked adjectives in degree constructions.
(1) [[POSi(nformative)]]c = λg<ed>λxe.g(x) > STANDARD-OF-COMPARISON
(2) [[POSu(ninformative)]]c = λg<ed>λxe∃d.g(x) = d
Locational Comparatives
Junya Nomura (MIT)
Plural Comparison and Collective Predication
Greg Scontras (Harvard), Peter Graff (MIT), and Noah D. Goodman (Stanford)
We present experimental evidence that plural comparison reduces to the comparison of collective degrees inferred from the pluralities involved. Our results support the hypothesis that a plurality can have a single degree associated with it that differs from the maximal degrees true of each of its parts, and that this degree is calculated by averaging the maximal degrees of the individuals belonging to the plurality. This result is unexpected given traditional views of collective predication (e.g., Link, 1983; Scha, 1984), which predict that the sum of individual degrees, and not the average is the property relevant for collective comparison.
Subset Comparatives: A Psycholinguistic Investigation
Meg Grant (UMass Amherst)
This presentation will be an examination of what I will call subset comparatives, as in (1a-b).
(1). a. More flowers than tulips grew well in the small greenhouse.
b. More flowers than a tulip grew well in the small greenhouse.
(2). a. More violets than tulips grew well in the small greenhouse.
b. #More violets than a tulip grew well in the small greenhouse.
These constructions have the property that the complement of than (tulips/a tulip) is understood to be a part of the set picked out by the associate of the comparative (flowers). The subset relationship is required when the complement of than is a full DP, as shown in the contrast between (1b) and (2b). Often in these examples, than is followed by just, as in (3).
(3). Yankee stadium poses more problems than just empty seats. (Brenden Monroe,, 23 April 2009)
In this presentation, I will argue that just is an overt indication of a meaning that subset comparatives always have. In addition to discussing these theoretical implications, I will present results of an eyetracking experiment that explores the on-line processing of subset comparatives.


We are planning to produce a proceedings to be published through MIT Working Papers in Linguistics.


Some photos from the Workshop.