Volume 24, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1606-822X
  • E-ISSN: 2309-5067



This paper studies the morpho-semantics of a particular class of scalar focus adverbs called Superlative Modifiers (SMs). One key feature of these scalar focus adverbs is that they bear degree morphology, along with gradable adjectives involved. Most analyses of SMs in the market do not take into consideration the semantic contributions of their morphology. However, the cross-linguistic facts strongly suggest that the morphological makeup of SMs cannot simply be a linguistic coincidence. Thus, SMs have posed a long-standing and intriguing morpho-semantic puzzle: Why do SMs morphologically involve a quantity adjective (Q-adjective) and the superlative morpheme? What is the role of Q-adjectives and the superlative morpheme inside SMs? How are these morphological pieces of SMs connected with their semantics? This paper is dedicated to these questions by focusing on two expressions of Mandarin SMs, and (which morphologically consist of only the superlative morpheme and a quantity adjective ‘many/much’ or ‘few/little’), and presents a decompositional analysis of both expressions as modified superlatives.

If the proposed analysis is on the right track, it shows that insights and tools developed in studies on gradability (Kennedy 1999) can be applied to those on scalarity. Recently, Greenberg (20162017) has argued for a gradability-based semantics of English . This paper contributes to this growing research agenda, through a detailed case study of SMs, a class of scalar focus adverbs but bearing degree morphology and gradable adjectives. Moreover, this paper also deepens our understanding of the semantics of Q-adjectives. By studying SMs, this paper shows that the measured domain of Q-adjectives need not be structured by the part-of relation, but rather the natural ordering on the relevant domain. Crucially, this updated view on Wellwood’s (20142015) semantics of Q-adjectives leads us to their differential uses and ultimately a unified account of Q-adjectives.

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