Comparisons of equality with German SO...WIE, and the relationship between degrees and properties

Vera Hohaus, Malte Zimmmermann

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We present a compositionally transparent, unified semantic analysis of two kinds of so…wie-equative constructions in German, namely degree equatives and property equatives in the domain of individuals or events. Unlike in English and many other European languages (Haspelmath & Buchholz 1998, Rett 2013), both equative types in German feature the parameter marker so, suggesting a unified analysis. We show that the parallel formal expression of German degree and property equatives is accompanied by a parallel syntactic distribution (in predicative, attributive, and adverbial position), and by identical semantic properties: Both equative types allow for scope ambiguities, show negative island effects out of context, and license the negative polarity item überhaupt ‘at all’ in the complement clause. As the same properties are also shared by German comparatives, we adopt the influential quantificational analysis of comparatives in von Stechow (1984ab), Heim (1985, 2001, 2007), and Beck (2011), and treat both German equative types in a uniform manner as expressing universal quantification over sets of degrees or over sets of properties (of individuals or events). Conceptually, the uniform marking of degree-related and property-related meanings is expected given that the abstract semantic category degree (type d⁠) can be reconstructed in terms of equivalence classes, i.e., ontologically simpler sets of individuals (type ⟨e,t⟩⁠) or events (type ⟨v,t⟩⁠). These are found in any language, showing that whether or not a language makes explicit reference to degrees (by means of gradable adjectives, degree question words, degree-only equatives) does not follow on general conceptual or semantic grounds, but is determined by the grammar of that language.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberffaa011
JournalJournal of Semantics
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2020


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