'Acción Complementaria' HUM2007-30541-E: Properties and context-dependency: semantics and lexical syntax of gradable and non gradable adjectives

Principal Investigator: Violeta Demonte Barreto
Researchers: Olga Fernández Soriano (UAM), Isabel Pérez Jiménez (CCHS-CSIC), María Jesús Arche García-Valdecasas (U. Southampton), and Silvia Serrano Pardo (Grant holder, UAM).


The goal of this project is to carry out a lexical semantic study of adjectives, a class of words whose characteristics, restrictions and morphological, syntactic and semantic possibilities have received a relatively poor treatment in the linguistic bibliography for Spanish, especially when compared to the treatment of verbs and nouns.
In previous work (Demonte 2006, 2008), we have dealt with the syntax of adjectives in a derivational constituent grammar (generative grammar). In this project, we will take up the classification put forward in Demonte (1999) and (2008) for Spanish with a view to deriving the interpretation of pre- and postnominal adjectives, as well as other aspects of the behavior of adjectives, from a compositional lexical syntactic analysis.
Likewise, we will endeavor to enrich this classification, as well as its inherent syntactic analysis, through the use of the ontologies characteristic of formal semantics, and through concepts such as ‘gradability’, ‘context-dependency’, ‘truth conditions’ and alike. More specifically, we aim to elaborate an exhaustive analysis of the semantic and lexical syntactic properties of adjectives and to study the interaction between these characteristics – and the ‘types’ that they make up – and the syntax of adjectival modification in Spanish. To that end, we will start, on the one hand, from the revision of classical distinctions among ‘types’ of adjectives set up by truth conditional semantics: Montague (1970); Bartsch and Vennemann (1972); Kamp (1975); Siegel (1976/1980); Cresswell (1977); Klein (1980, 1991); Partee (1995), among others. We will develop these distinctions building on Bierwisch (1989), Kennedy (1999, 2007) and Kennedy and McNally (2005) where it is argued that the compositional analysis must integrate contextual factors if one hopes to account for the vagueness effects induced by adjectives in so many sentences, and if one wants to derive the appropriate inferences for the various classes of adjectives. On the other hand, Larson (1983), Larson and Segal (1995), among others, have shown that the interpretative conditions of a sentence can vary also depending on the semantic structure of the noun the adjective modifies. We will specifically deal with some classes of adjectives (relational, evaluative, color adjectives …) and we will try to study the relations between their lexical properties and their distributional patterns.