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Mediated *modification: Functional structure and the interpretation of modifier position

Marcin Morzycki, University of Massachusetts Amherst


For all the progress that has been made in understanding the syntax-semantics interface, many long-familiar connections between the meaning and position of modifiers remain largely mysterious. Why should color adjectives, for example, occupy different positions than size adjectives and evaluative adjectives? Why should subject-oriented adverbs occupy different positions than manner adverbs? More generally, why should the lexical semantics of modifiers often seemingly determine their position in this intricate way? The analytical thread unifying the independent case studies in this thesis is an attempt to address this longstanding question by attributing part of the apparent lexical semantics of certain modifiers instead to their position itself. In Chapter 1, I discern in previous research a common analytical impulse to posit grammatical devices that mediate between a particular modifier and the expression it modifies. I then propose a generalized understanding of how such mediation might work, building broadly on McConnell-Ginet (1982) and Cinque (1999), in which certain modifiers are treated as arguments of semantically-interpreted features in the functional structure of the modified expression. This permits a kind of decomposition, in which a modifier's lexical semantics is, in the spirit of Ernst (2002), reduced to a single simple core meaning that remains constant irrespective of syntactic position, and the semantic peculiarities that vary from one position to another arise instead directly form the denotations of features. After sketching how this might provide some analytical traction on some otherwise vexing puzzles, I move on in other chapters to examine some particular not-well-understood modifiers. Chapter 2 focuses on a class of evaluative adverbs such as remarkably that occur inside the adjectival projection, arguing that they are interpreted as arguments of degree morphology that imputes to them a roughly exclamative-like domain-widening interpretation. Chapter 3 develops an account of the distinguishing properties of weak DP adverbials—low scope, fixed position, and a durativity presupposition—in which they are linked to Aktionsart information in the VP and mirror the syntax of other types of measure phrase. Chapter 4 examines modifiers such as almostand virtually cross-categorially, assigning them an intensional semantics. Chapter 4 analyzes whole and entire as fundamentally non-quantificational expressions that reduce exception tolerance.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Morzycki, Marcin, "Mediated *modification: Functional structure and the interpretation of modifier position" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3163690.