Dissertation Oral Presentation

Restrictions on Adjectival Interpretation

Tue November 16th 2021, 11:00am - 12:15pm
Online (Zoom)
The goal of this thesis is to characterize the selectional preferences between nearly synonymous adjectives, an issue that has been largely neglected by previous approaches. Such pairs are termed plesionyms, from Greek plesion `near' and nym `name'. That is, given a pair of plesionyms and an environment in which either member of the pair is a valid candidate for conveying the intended meaning, which mechanism do speakers apply internally to perform this selection? What determines their preferences for one plesionym or the other? I approach the issue from both a qualitative and a quantitative perspective, which complement and motivate each other. The qualitative analysis builds up for the prediction that, due to considerations of communicative efficiency, the overall less frequent plesionym in a pair would carry some extra layer of meaning compared to the overall more frequent one, such as higher logical complexity or expressive attitude. In the quantitative analysis, we test this prediction under several sets of assumptions, demonstrating that the less frequent plesionym is usually associated with more nouns that exhibit higher complexity or emotional salience.