Reference to degrees and nominalization in Mbyá

Published in The art and craft of semantics: a Festschrift for Irene Heim, 2014

Abstract: This paper investigates the interaction between comparison and nominalization through the analysis of data from Mbyá Guaraní, a Tupí-Guaraní language spoken in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. More precisely, it aims to account for the fact that there are no cross-polar anomalies (Kennedy 2001) in Mbyá, i.e. the fact that sentences like John is taller than Mary is short are grammatical in this language. To do so, I argue that the grammar of Mbyá is sensitive to the difference between thin degrees (measurements without an order relation) and fat degrees (measurements with an order relation). Cross-polar anomalies arise when two fat degrees with inverse order relations are compared. In cross-polar comparisons in Mbyá, nominalization of the standard of comparison maps a property of fat degrees to a definite description of thin degrees, therefore rescuing the comparison. Crucially, the presence of a property of fat degrees inside the nominalized property can be diagnosed through the evaluativity of standards of comparison built with negative gradable predicates like karape’i (‘short’): following Heim’s (2009) reformulation of Rett’s (2008) analysis, the evaluativity of negative standards of comparison can be derived from a competition between the negative and positive forms of gradable predicates, which exploits the order relation of fat degrees. The difference between English and Mbyá with respect to cross-polar anomalies is then explained as a matter of lexical variation: in Mbyá, the mapping of properties of fat degrees to definite descriptions or properties of thin degrees is productive and takes the form of an operation of clausal nominalization, which allows the expression of cross-polar comparison. In English, this mapping is attested but seems to be lexically restricted to a subset of positive adjective nominalizations like height.

Guillaume Thomas. 2013. Reference to degrees and nominalization in Mbyá. In The art and craft of semantics: a Festschrift for Irene Heim, vol. 2, edited by Uli Sauerland and Luka Crnic, MITWPL 71: 201-225