Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

The meaning of German 'wie' in equative comparison (Similarity 2)

The topic of this project is the meaning of German wie in equative comparison including scalar as well as non-scalar cases, cf. (1). The semantics of equatives has up to now been studied nearly exclusively from the perspective of the comparative, excluding non-scalar equatives from the analysis. Moreover, it has been studied nearly exclusively from the perspective of English, which does not suggest a uniform analysis of scalar and non-scalar cases due to their different grammatical forms. In German, both scalar and non-scalar equatives are based on wie-clauses thus calling for a uniform analysis.

(1)       a.        Anna ist so groß wie Berta.                  'Anna is as tall as Berta.'

              b.         Anna hat so eine Tasse wie Berta.    'Anna has a mug like Berta's.

            c.        Anna hat so getanzt wie Berta.           'Anna danced like Berta.'

In this project, a generalized account of equatives will be developed (i) including scalar as well as non-scalar cases, (ii) promoting the idea that equatives express similarity, that is, indistinguishability with respect to a given set of features, and (iii) that this results from the meaning of the particle 'wie' which is not semantically empty (as assumed in standard degree semantics) but has a meaning of its own. It will be hypothesized that the results prove valid in other languages exhibiting the same equative pattern as in German, e.g. in Polish and Italian (but not English).

The proposal builds on the results of the preceding project Expressing similarity, which focused on the German demonstrative so in deictic and anaphoric usage, including scalar as well as non-scalar occurrences. The core result is a semantic interpretation of the demonstrative such that it has a deictic component and a similarity component – in short, so means wie dies ('like that') – and creates similarity classes which in the nominal and verbal case (though not in the degree case) constitute ad-hoc kinds. The similarity relation is spelt out in a cognitively motivated multi-dimensional framework integrated into referential semantics. This analysis will be adopted for wie claiming that wie expresses similarity like so but lacks the deictic component – in short: wie is like so without deixis.