Superlative adjectives and the licensing of non-modal infinitival subject relatives

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The present contribution proposes an analysis of adjectives that license nonmodal infinitival relative clauses. I propose to reduce the uniqueness constraint on the noun phrase modified by non-modal infinitival relatives to licensing by a contrastive identificational focus. The contrastive component ensures that the licensing adjectives exclude the existence of a still higher or lower degree: uniqueness is due to selection of the endpoint of a scale. I further propose that superlatives and comparable modifiers are polysemous. In their positive use they assert a positive proposition and entail a negative one, in which case they function as identificational foci; in their negative use, on the other hand, they assert a negative proposition and entail a positive one, in which case they function as contrastive foci. The negative use of superlatives and equivalent modifiers licenses non-modal infinitival relatives, subjunctive relative clauses (e.g. in Romance) and negative polarity items like ever. The positive use of superlatives and comparable modifiers does not license non-modal infinitival relatives, subjunctive relative clauses, and negative polarity items, but only indicative relative clauses.


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