Semantics Circle: The semantics of adnominal 'very'

Vortragende(r) Curt Anderson
Institution(en) Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Datum 15.01.2020
Uhrzeit 15:00 Uhr
Ort 4. Etage, Raum 403 (Seminarraum)


The semantics of adnominal very

Curt Anderson (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)

Canonically, _very_ acts as a degree modifier, modifying gradable adjectives and specifying that the adjective holds to a high degree. However, _very_ also has an adnominal use, exemplified in (1) through (3), that has received little previous attention compared to its degree modifier use.

(1) the very center of the Earth

(2) the very person I spoke with yesterday

(3) The very idea of space travel excites me.

In this talk, I investigate the semantic properties of this adnominal use. First, I show, based on corpus data, that adnominal _very_ is sensitive to whether the noun it modifies is a relational/[+R] noun (in the sense of Löbner 2011), and that adnominal _very_ can only occur in definite DPs. Second, I argue that there are two varieties of adnominal _very_: a precisifying use (examples (1) and (2)) that increases the precision to which the nominal concept is interpreted (implemented using a variant of Morzycki’s (2011) compositional semantics for pragmatic halos), and a non-precisifying use (example (3)) that makes reference to a contextual scale. Finally, I argue that the contribution of _very_ in the precisifying variety is at-issue, while it is non-at-issue in the non-precisifying variety. This work contributes to our understanding of degree modification across categories, and of what scales degree modifiers relate to.