Ekkehard König

(FU Berlin & University of Freiburg)

The comparative basis of intensification

I will raise and answer two questions in this talk:

  1. In how far is intensification through degree adverbs (extremely, very, amazingly, moderately, etc.) based on comparisons?
  2. Does such a comparative basis manifest itself in formal properties of such degree adverbs or intensifiers?

In order to discuss these questions, I will first of all take a look at syntactico-semantic domains intensification is closely related to, viz. demonstratives of degree, manner and quality (e.g. the fish was so big.), comparative constructions (The fish was as big as the lower part of my arm) and exclamatives (How big this fish is!). In connection with the discussion of comparative constructions, a semantic typology will be developed. In contrast to the standard picture of mentioning just two types (‘equative’ and ‘differentiating’ ones), it will be shown that comparative constructions may differ along a wide variety of parameters and that examples like the following differ in one or two of these parameters:

  1. I am surprised that Bill is as intelligent as he is.
  2. Sometimes these films are broadcast as late as midnight.
  3. No more can I be severed from your side than can yourself yourself in twain divide.
  4. I am as vain as the next person.

The use of demonstratives of degree, manner and quality are a crucial piece of evidence, since they develop into comparative markers in many languages, notably in European ones.

The questions raised above will be answered affirmatively: Intensifiers have a basis in comparison to a large extent and this comparative basis shows up in certain formal properties.

Another aspect of my talk relates to the subjectivity expressed by intensification, which may often have the effect that the use of intensifiers tells us more about the user (speaker) than about the person or entity described.