From Event Structure to Scale Structure: Degree Modification in Deverbal Adjectives

Christopher Kennedy and Louise McNally

An issue of interest to work in areas ranging from lexical semantics to natural language processing (especially automatic text generation) to language pedagogy is the semantics of degree modification by expressions like very, well, and much. Focusing on the case of deverbal gradable adjectives (such as acquainted), we show that the selective behavior of different degree modifiers provides an important probe on the semantic typology of adjectives. Specifically, we demonstrate that the distribution and interpretation of degree modifiers is sensitive both to the scalar structure of the adjectives they modify and to the nature of the ``standard values'' according to which sentences involving adjectival predications are judged to be true. We further show that the scalar structure of deverbal gradable adjectives is determined by the aspectual properties of the source verbs, making it possible to accurately predict both which degree modifiers will be acceptable with which participles, and how they will be interpreted.