Friday, May 7, 2010

First post! Expressive attributive adjectives

I'll inaugurate Linguistics Commentary with some observations on Christopher Potts' book The Logic of Conventional Implicatures (OUP, 2005).

In Chapter 5 (section 5.3.1), Potts argues that Expressive Attributive Adjectives (EAs) like damn and f-cking have a completely standard syntax, and are garden-variety attributive adjectives. It seems to me that this is not true; EAs have a number of properties that distinguish them from other adjectives. (I use f-cking in all the examples below, but any other EA will work as well, like damn.)

First, EAs can modify other adjectives, but most adjectives cannot; they need to be turned into adverbs:

(1) That's a f-cking big insect!
(2) That insect is f-cking huge!
(3) That's a horrendously/*horrendous big insect!
(4) That insect is horrendously/*horrendous big!

Second, EAs can modify an adjective that appears before them, unlike other adjectives:

(5) That's a big f-cking insect! (what's shocking is how big it is)
(6) That's a big horrendous insect! (horrendous does not modify big)

Third, modifiers of adjectives (adverbs) allow the head adjective to elide, but this is not possible with an EA:

(7) Are you hungry? Terribly!
(8) Are you hungry? *F-cking! (vs. I'm f-cking hungry!)

Similarly, as adjectives, EAs do not allow one-replacement:

(9) He's a conservative Republican, and she's a moderate one.
(10)*He's a f-cking Republican, and she's a f-cking one too.

Fifth, EAs have a different intonation pattern from other adjectives/adverbs. They cannot take the main stress (stress indicated by CAPS):

(11) I'm TERRibly hungry!
(12)*I'm F-CKing hungry!
(13) I'm f-cking HUNgry!
(14) That's a big UGly bug!
(15)*That's a big F-CKing bug!
(16) That's a BIG f-cking bug!
(17) I was hit by a CRAzy madman!
(18)*I was hit by a F-CKing madman!
(19) I was hit by a f-cking MADman!

Relatedly, they cannot be contrastive, unlike regular adjectives:

(20) The CONSERvative Republicans tried to kill this bill, not the moderate ones.
(21)*The F-CKing Republicans tried to kill this bill, not the ones I like.

Hence, EAs cannot perform the function of restricting reference, unlike regular adjectives.

While some of these properties probably follow from the theory of EAs that Potts gives, some others don't: property (i), they can modify adjectives directly; (ii) in prenominal position they can modify the adjective that precedes them; (iii-iv) they do not allow ellipsis or one-replacement.

That's it for the first post! I hope someone can take up these properties and explain them.

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