Comparatives and Superlatives at the Interface of Syntax and Semantics


Roumyana Pancheva

University of Southern California


EALING 2012, Paris, 14 – 16 September 2012


Course Description


There has been a lasting interest in the grammar of comparatives and superlatives within the generative tradition, partly because languages employ a great variety of degree expressions that need to map to consistent meanings, but also because the grammar of comparison subsumes a number of key phenomena such as quantification, wh-movement, ellipsis resolution, focus interpretation, NPI licensing. This seminar examines some of the issues and results in comparatives and superlatives, primarily from the perspective of how their syntax and semantics interface, and with the goal of stimulating cross-linguistic research in this domain.  


Main Topics


Day 1

Comparison across categories: the cast of characters. Cross-linguistic variation in the syntax of comparatives. Brief overview of the semantics of gradable adjectives, measurement and comparison. Semantic parallels between comparison of individuals and events.

Day 2

The architecture of comparatives and superlatives. QR of -er: scope ambiguities and ellipsis resolution. QR of -est: superlative ambiguities.

Day 3

Individual and degree comparison; direct and reduction analyses of phrasal comparatives.





Beck, S. (2011) "Comparison Constructions". C. Maienborn, K. von Heusinger and P. Portner (eds.): Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Bd. 2. Berlin (u.a.): De Gruyter Mouton, 1341-1389. [paper]


Day 1:

Schwarzschild, R. (2008). “The Semantics of Comparatives and other Degree Constructions” Language and Linguistics Compass 2.2: 308–331. [paper]

Wellwood, A., V. Hacquard, and R. Pancheva (2012). “Measuring and Comparing Individuals and Events” Journal of Semantics 29, 207-228. [paper]


Day 2:

Corver, N. (2005). “Comparative Deletion and Subdeletion” In M. Everaert and H. van Riemsdijk (eds). The Blackwell Companion to Syntax. Blackwell Publishing, 2005. [paper]

Heim, I. (2000). “Degree Operators and Scope,” in Proceedings of SALT 10, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, Cornell Linguistics Club, 40–64. [paper]

Pancheva, R. and B. Tomaszewicz (to appear). “Cross-Linguistic Differences in Superlative Movement out of Nominal Phrases” WCCFL 30. [paper]


Day 3:

Kennedy, C. (2007). “Modes of Comparison” Proceedings of Chicago Linguistic Society 43. [paper]

Bhatt, R. and S. Takahashi (2011). “Reduced and Unreduced Phrasal Comparatives” Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 29, 581-620. [paper]

Pancheva, R. (2010). “More Students Attended FASL than CONSOLE” In W. Browne, A. Cooper, A. Fisher, E. Kesici, N. Predolac, D. Zec (eds.) Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics: The Cornell Meeting, 2009. [paper]

Lechner, W. (2001). “Reduced and Phrasal Comparatives”. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 19, 4, 683-735. [paper]



Additional references: (more to be added…) 


Arnim von Stechow’s EALING 2008 course on Degree Semantics (and Syntax): [link]


Bhatt, R. and R. Pancheva (2004). “Late Merger of Degree Clauses” Linguistic Inquiry 35, 1-45.[paper]

Bresnan, J. (1973). “The Syntax of the Comparative Clause Construction in English,” Linguistic Inquiry 4, 275–343. [paper]

Kennedy, C. (2006). “Comparatives, Semantics of” In K. Allen (section editor) Lexical and Logical SemanticsEncyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd Edition, Elsevier, Oxford. [paper]

O’Connor, E. (2012). “A Clausal Analysis of Dari and Tajik Phrasal Comparatives” NELS 41. [paper]

Pancheva, R. and B. Tomaszewicz (2011). “Experimental Evidence for the Syntax of Phrasal Comparatives in Polish” Penn Working Papers in Linguistics, v. 17.1. Article 21. [paper]

Sharvit, Y. and P. Stateva (2002). “Superlative Expressions, Context, and Focus.” Linguistics and Philosophy 25, 453-504. [paper]