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Workshop on Scalar Meaning

Scale Closure and Telicity
Yoad Winter, Technion

May 19, 2006
University of Chicago

A fascinating aspect of telicity that has occupied semantic research since the early works of M. Krifka, H. Verkuyl and others, is the relations between the nominal and the verbal domains. Recent work has also started to explore other cross-categorial aspects of telicity, notably adjectives (Hay et al. 1999) and prepositions (Zwarts 2005). In the talk I'll follow these works and other recent work (especially by Amaral and Kearns), describing relations between scalar structures, path structures and the telicity of various verb phrases.

The modifier almost is especially useful for testing such relations between different semantic domains due to its cross-categorial nature, combined with Dowty's (1979) observation about its ambiguity with telic predicates vis a vis atelic predicates. I'll claim that Dowty's observation does not always hold: some telic prepositions do not exhibit the ambiguity expected with almost. Using the analysis in Rotstein and Winter (2004), I'll conclude that ambiguity of almost in verbal forms is caused by closure of the structure it modifies, and not by telicity per se. This unified account of almost with verbs, prepositions and adjectives is used for generalizing Hay et al's mapping from scales to temporal structures. Against Hay et al's claim, and in agreement with Kearns (2005), I'll show that contextual information only affects open structures, but not closed structures. Based on the subinterval property of Bennett and Partee (1978), I'll provide a characteristic of atelicity, called weak downward monotonicity. This condition immediately accounts for the correlation between the a/telicity of deadjectival verbs and the closure properties of scales associated with the corresponding adjectives. It is also useful in capturing the relationships between telicity and path structures of prepositions.

Time permitting, I'll say more about:

  1. Weak downward monotonicity and the so-called Sorites "paradox" with adjectives.
  2. The controversy surrounding the "pointal" scale structure of total adjectives like clean, healthy and straight.