Gradable adjectives and the semantics of locatives
Flieger, Johannes C.
This dissertation develops a semantic model of gradable adjectives such as ‘tall’, ‘good’, ‘big’, ‘heavy’, etc., within a formal semantic theory of locatives we call Locative Structure Semantics (LSS). Our central hypothesis is that gradable adjectives are, semantically, a species of locative expression. The view of gradable adjectives as locatives is inspired by the vector-based semantic models of Vector Space Semantics (VSS), as well as the notion of perspective or point of view, as found in Leonard Talmy’s research on spatial expressions (Talmy ) and the tradition of Situation Semantics (cf. Barwise and Perry [9, p. 39]). Following Barwise and Seligman , we construe the contextual variability that characterises gradable adjectives in terms of shifts in cognitive perspective. We argue that perspectives are a formal part of a semantic representational structure that is shared by expressions from several different domains, which we refer to as a locative structure (L-structure). The notion of an L-structure is influenced by Reichenbach’s notion of tense, and can be thought of as a generalisation of the Reichenbachian notion of tense to the realm of concepts. Reichenbach  proposed that each temporal expression is associated with three time points: a speech point, S, an event point, E, and reference point, R, where E refers to the time point corresponding to the event described by the tensed clause, S is (usually) taken to be the speaker’s time of utterance, and R is a temporal reference point relevant to the utterance. In LSS we extend this tripartite scheme to locative expressions in general, to which we assign a ternary structure comprising a Perspective, a Figure, and a Ground, represented symbolically as P, F, and G, and which are generalisations of the Reichenbachian S, E, and R, respectively. We show that a formal semantics based on L-structures enables us to capture important crosscategorial similarities between gradable adjectives, tenses, and spatial prepositions.