It’s not about 'about' – comparatives, negation and intervals


  • Benjamin Spector



Solt (2014, 2018) discovered an intriguing pattern regarding the distribution of the approximator 'about'. While 'about n' is typically infelicitous under negation, this pattern is reversed with 'more than about n', which is fine under negation, but not in a simple, unembedded context. Solt proposed an ingenious account based on certain assumptions about the meaning of 'about' and principles of language use, and, specifically, the fact that 'about' is an approximator that manipulates a granularity parameter. I argue that the pattern uncovered by Solt is not specifically tied to approximators, as it can be reproduced with disjunctions of numerals and interval-denoting expressions ('between n and m'), and is therefore part of a broader generalization. I offer an account based on (a) the universal density of measurement scales (Fox and Hackl 2006), (b) a semantic analysis of degree constructions that involves in a crucial way the notion of 'maximal informativity' (Buccola and Spector 2016, with roots in Rullmann 1995; Fox and Hackl 2006; Schlenker 2012; von Fintel et al. 2014) and (c) a pragmatic ban on redundant numerical expressions. I then discuss some limitations of the proposal, in comparison with Solt’s.




How to Cite

Spector, B. (2023). It’s not about ’about’ – comparatives, negation and intervals. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 27, 625–640.