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4.1.4. Comparison of adjectives with adjectives
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This section discusses examples such as (109), in which two properties are compared: in (109a) the comparison involves the length and the width of a single table, and in (109b) the length and width of two different tables. If we represent the referent of the noun phrase deze tafel as “table1" and that of die tafel as “table2", the semantic representations of these examples are as given in the primed examples; the predicates are set in boldface to indicate that we are dealing with the neutral meanings of the adjectives.

Example 109
a. Deze tafel is even lang als breed.
  this table  is as long  as wide
a'. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (table1,d) & BREED (table1,d') & (d = d') ]
b. Deze tafel is even lang als die tafel breed.
  this table  is as long  as  that table  wide
b'. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (table1,d) & BREED (table2,d') & (d = d') ]

The examples in (110) show that we can find similar examples with comparatives. Perhaps the addition of a modifier like iets'somewhat' is preferred in these examples, although it is easily possible to find similar examples without a modifier on the internet. Superlative examples involving comparison of properties do not occur.

Example 110
a. Deze tafel is iets langer dan/als breed.
  this table  is somewhat  longer  than wide
a'. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (table1,d) & BREED (table1,d') & (d > d') ]
b. Deze tafel is iets langer dan/als die tafel breed.
  this table is somewhat  longer  than  that table  wide
b'. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (table1,d) & BREED (table2,d') & (d > d') ]

The possibility of having an adjective in a comparative als/dan-phrase is very limited, however. The following subsections discuss the restrictions involved.

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[+]  I.  The adjectives imply commensurable scales

A first requirement that must be met is that the compared adjectives must be scaled in a similar way. Since length and width can be expressed by means of the same measure units (e.g., centimeters or inches), the examples in (109) are acceptable. The adjectives in the examples in (111), on the other hand, involve scales that are incomparable and the examples are unacceptable: the semantic representations in the primed examples are not coherent because the degrees d and d' involve different measure units and therefore cannot be compared.

Example 111
a. # Deze tafel is even lang als mooi.
  this table  is as long  as  beautiful
a'. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (tafel,d) & MOOI (tafel,d') & (d = d') ]
b. # Jan is even sterk als Piet slim.
  Jan is as strong  as Piet  smart
b'. ∃d ∃d' [ STERK (Jan,d) & SLIM (Piet,d') & (d = d') ]

The use of the number signs indicates that examples comparable to (111a&b) do occasionally occur, but then the semantic nature of the construction is completely different. Consider the examples in (112), which do not really involve comparison of degrees, but instead comment on the appropriateness of the terms; cf. the discussion of example (47). It is expressed that both properties denoted by the adjectives are applicable to their logical subject. In addition, the examples have an amplifying meaning: whereas example (109a) can be said about a table that is rather short, (112b) could not be said of a woman who is only moderately beautiful. In other words, the meanings of the examples in (112) do not have the format in (111a), but are rather as given as in the primed examples in (112), in which dn refers to the implied norm for the relevant scale; cf. the introduction to Section 3.1.2.

Example 112
a. Jan is even sterk als slim.
  Jan is as strong  as smart
a'. ∃d [ STERK (Jan,d) & (d > dn) ] & ∃d' [ SLIM (Jan,d') & (d' > dn) ]
b. Marie is even mooi als gevaarlijk.
  Marie is as beautiful  as dangerous
b'. ∃d [ MOOI (Marie,d) & (d > dn) ] & ∃d' [ GEVAARLIJK (Marie,d') & (d' > dn)]

This means that the constructions in (112) are not cases of the equative construction, which can be confirmed by the fact that these examples do not have a comparative counterpart; the primeless examples in (113) are unacceptable. The fact that the primed examples are acceptable is not relevant, because 4.1.2, sub VB, has already shown that these are not cases of the comparative.

Example 113
a. * Jan is sterker dan slim.
  Jan is stronger  than  smart
a'. Jan is meer/eerder sterk dan slim.
  Jan is more/rather strong  than  smart
b. * Marie is mooier dan gevaarlijk.
  Marie is more beautiful  than  dangerous
b'. Marie is meer/eerder mooi dan gevaarlijk.
  Marie is more/rather beautiful  than  dangerous
[+]  II.  The adjectives allow modification by a nominal measure phrase

In addition to the requirement that the adjectives be scaled along comparable dimensions, they must allow modification by a nominal measure phrase. In other words, comparison of adjectives involves measure adjectives only.

[+]  A.  Equatives

In the equative constructions in (114), the neutral form lang'long' is compared to the non-neutral form smal'narrow', which yields a degraded result.

Example 114
a. * De tafel is even lang als smal.
  the table  is as long  as  narrow
b. * Deze tafel is even lang als die tafel smal.
  this table  is as long  as  that table  narrow

The fact that the examples in (115), in which two non-neutral forms of the measure adjectives are compared, are not acceptable either, leads to the conclusion that comparison of two adjectives is possible only with the neutral forms of the measure adjectives, that is, the form of the measure adjectives that can be modified by means of a nominal measure phrase; cf. twee meter lang/*kort'two meters long/*short' and één meter breed/*smal'one meter wide/*narrow'.

Example 115
a. * De tafel is even kort als smal.
  the table  is as short  as narrow
b. * Deze tafel is even kort als die tafel smal.
  this table is as short  as that table narrow
[+]  B.  Comparatives

In the case of the comparative construction, we can reach a similar conclusion. As is shown in (116a), two neutral measure adjectives can be compared without difficulty. Given that the comparative form of a non-neutral measure adjective can also be modified by a nominal measure phrase (cf. Section 3.1.4, sub II, example (250)), it does not come as a surprise that (116b) is acceptable as well. As soon as the adjective in the dan-phrase is a non-neutral measure adjective, however, the result is unacceptable. This is illustrated by the primed examples in (116).

Example 116
a. Deze tafel is (30 cm) langer dan die tafel breed is.
  this table  is  30 cm longer  than   that table  wide  is
a'. * Deze tafel is (30 cm) langer dan die tafel smal is.
  this table  is  30 cm longer  than   that table  narrow  is
b. Deze tafel is (30 cm) korter dan die tafel breed is.
  this table  is  30 cm  shorter  than  that table  wide  is
b'. * Deze tafel is (30 cm) korter dan die tafel smal is.
  this table  is  30 cm  shorter  than  that table  narrow  is

Example (117) provides the semantic representations of the grammatical examples in (116); again, we give the predicates in boldface in order to indicate that we are dealing here with the neutral meaning of the adjectives. Example (116a) does not imply that the table involved is actually long or wide, and (116b) implies neither that the referent of deze tafel “table1" is short nor that the referent of die tafel “table2" is wide.

Example 117
a. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (table1,d) & BREED (table2,d') & (d = ||d' + 30 cm||) ]
b. ∃d ∃d' [ LANG (table1,d) & BREED (table2,d') & (d = ||d' - 30 cm||) ]

The examples in (118) show that as soon as the construction includes an adjective other than a measure adjective (that is, an adjective that cannot be modified by a nominal measure phrase), the construction yields an ungrammatical result.

Example 118
a. * Deze tafel is langer dan mooi.
  this table  is longer  than  beautiful
a'. * Deze tafel is mooier dan lang.
  this table  is more beautiful  than  long
b. * Jan is sterker dan Piet slim.
  Jan is stronger  than Piet  smart

      For completeness’ sake, we conclude this subsection by noting that Kennedy (1997) gives English (119a) as acceptable, whereas examples such as (119b) are judged (semantically) anomalous. This goes against our hypothesis that the two adjectives must be both eligible for modification by a nominal measure phrase: since this is the case with shorter (10 cm shorter) but not with low (*2 meters low), (119a) should be ungrammatical; as both shorter/less tall and high can be modified by a nominal measure phrase ( 2 meters high), (119b) should be grammatical. Our English informants do not (fully) share Kennedyʼs judgments: some are simply confused about these examples, whereas others consider (119b) marked and sometimes even better than (119a), especially if shorter is modified by a measure phrase like two meters. Example (119c), which is not discussed by Kennedy, seems to be an even better way of expressing the intended proposition according to all our informants. This would be in accordance with our hypothesis, since both less tall and high can be modified by a nominal measure phrase..

Example 119
a. % The ficus was shorter than the ceiling was low.
b. % The ficus was shorter than the ceiling was high.
c. The ficus was less tall than the ceiling was high.

Our judgments on the corresponding Dutch examples in (120) are similar to those of the English informants that prefer (119b&c) to (119a), and hence in accordance with our hypothesis. Example (120a) is unintelligible to us and clearly worse than (120b), and the best way of expressing the intended proposition is by using the minorative form of the adjective lang'long', as in (120c). According to our German informants, similar judgments hold for the German translations.

Example 120
a. * De ficus was korter dan het plafond laag.
b. ? De ficus was korter dan het plafond hoog.
c. De ficus was minder lang dan het plafond hoog.
References:
  • Kennedy, C1997Projecting the adjective: the syntax and semantics of gradability and comparisonUniversity of California, Santa CruzThesis
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