Department of Linguistics
University of Chicago
On the Monotonicity of Polar Adjectives
Negative polarity item licensing (1-4) and entailment patterns (6-8) indicate
that certain adjectives generate monotone decreasing contexts, while others
generate monotone increasing contexts (cf. Seuren 1978, Ladusaw 1979,
Linebarger 1980, Sanchez-Valencia 1996?).
Monotonicity properties represent one of several factors which have traditionally been used to classify gradable adjectives according to their "logical polarity" (in the sense of H. Klein 1996). Adjectives which license negative polarity items and downward entailments in clausal complements, such as difficult and strange, are classified as "negative", while adjectives which do not license negative polarity items but do permit upward inferences, such as easy and common, are classified as "positive" (see Seuren 1978 for early discussion of this issue). This paper addresses the question of how this distinction should be captured in the lexical semantics of gradable adjectives. I demonstrate that the monotonicity properties of polar adjectives can be derived if logical polarity is represented as an independently motivated sortal distinction between positive and negative adjectives in a model in which gradable adjectives denote relations between individuals and extents (intervals of a scale), rather than relations between individuals and degrees (points on a scale), as traditionally assumed (see e.g., Cresswell 1976, E. Klein 1991).