A Pragmatic Solution to the Paradox of Absolute Adjectives

  • Heather Burnett


This paper presents a new solution to a longstanding puzzle in the study of the semantics of gradable adjectives: the paradox of absolute adjectives. Absolute adjectives (AAs: ex. empty, straight, dry, wet, bent. . . ) display a semantic behaviour that appears to be a hybrid between the behaviour of members of the relative adjectival class (RAs: ex. tall, short, expensive. . . ) and the non-scalar adjectival class (NSs: ex. atomic, prime, hexagonal. . . ). I argue that this behaviour creates a puzzle for the formal analysis of the basic lexical meaning of these expressions: do they have a semantic denotation that is of the same type as relative adjectives or of the same type as non-scalar adjectives? I argue that there are empirical reasons for adopting a treatment of the semantics and pragmatics of AAs in which these predicates have a semantics that is more parallel to NSs than RAs. Finally, I provide a new solution to the paradox of absolute adjectives within the Delineation TCS framework, which is a non-classical logical system developed by Burnett (2012b) for analyzing the interaction between context-sensitivity, imprecision and gradability with adjectival predicates.
How to Cite
Burnett, H. (1). A Pragmatic Solution to the Paradox of Absolute Adjectives. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 17, 149-166. Retrieved from https://ojs.ub.uni-konstanz.de/sub/index.php/sub/article/view/338