This paper presents evidence from targeted comparative fieldwork across a geographically, genetically, and typologically diverse set of languages for the following universal: Regardless of the morphosyntactic strategy used by a language to form superlatives, if superlative morphosyntax can be applied to MUCH or MANY, then the result can be used to express a relative reading (as in “Kate has visited the most continents”) but not necessarily a proportional reading (as in “Kate has visited most of the continents”). Thus proportional readings of quantity superlatives are typologically marked, and relative readings are universal. Several potential explanations for this universal in the previous literature are discussed, including ability to associate with focus, availability of a DP layer, the type of pseudopartitive underlying quantity superlatives, and grammaticalization of a determiner. While each contributes important insights, none is without shortcomings. Our proposed explanation relies on two main assumptions: (i) quantity words normally denote gradable predicates of degrees rather than individuals, and (ii) superlatives require comparison between individuals, where comparison can be either direct or indirect. Violations of (i) in conjunction with abnormal comparison classes are required for proportional readings to arise compositionally. The resulting view constitutes a refinement of the decompositional approach to proportional MOST as a remedy to the inadequacy of first-order logic for capturing proportional meanings.
Proportional MOST is more than MANY plus -EST: Evidence from typological universals and variation
Elizabeth Coppock (Boston University)
Friday, February 2, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
LingSem (DOW 201)
370 Temple StreetNew Haven, CT 06511