Non-canonical Very as a Degree Modifier of NPs in English

Marcus V. R. Vieira, Luciana Sanchez-Mendes


The aim of this paper is to investigate the meaning of constructions with a non-canonical use of very inside NPs and to propose a unified formal semantic analysis for the degree modifier very. We adopt the notion of scalar properties and take as a starting point the fact that very is a typical degree modifier that boosts the degree of open-scale adjectives (e.g. tall) (cf. Kennedy & McNally, 2005). In this work, we focus on what we name non-canonical very: the modification of very on NPs (e.g. the very house John lived in). Our methodology consists of three major steps: firstly, we selected sentences with non-canonical very from The British National Corpus. Then, we selected sentences from five American and British novels published in the 19th and 20th centuries, comparing the sentences with their translations into Portuguese. Based on a first analysis of these sentences and on Matthewson’s (2004) methodology, we proceed to controlled elicitation of contexts with the participation of a native-English speaker of Wales. Data collected present definite DPs and complex NPs, what supports a proposal that consider modification of a scale that is closed and contextually dependent. We argue in favor of an analysis that gives a uniform lexical entry to very and assume that the difference on interpretation of canonical and non-canonical modification is due to scalar properties of the modified predicate. Canonical very modifies lexical open scales whereas non-canonical very modifies contextual closed scales of precision and produces an exhaustive interpretation. The study reveals the importance of logical scalar properties for the semantic investigation of degree modifiers.

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English Linguistics Research
ISSN 1927-6028 (Print)   ISSN 1927-6036 (Online)


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