Separate but equal: A typology of equative constructions


Separate but equal: A typology of equative constructions

The goal of this talk is to replicate the successful descriptive and theoretical typologies of comparatives (e.g. Jane is taller than Sue; Ultan 1972; Stassen 1985) for equative constructions, like Jane is as tall as Sue. There are a number of clear descriptive parallels across the two constructions: for each, languages differ with respect to how and whether they mark the constructions’ adjectival parameter and standard (e.g. Sue), but none mark the constructions’ target of comparison (e.g. Jane). And there are a few strategies available for each sort of construction: both comparatives and equatives, cross-linguistically, can be formed with equating predicates (‘exceed’ or ‘equal’) and with conjoined or juxtaposed clauses.

Following recent similar work on comparatives (Kennedy 2007, Beck et al. 2009, Bochnak 2015), I argue that the different of morphological strategies for forming equatives that differ slightly semantically despite their surface synonymy. Predicative equatives (e.g. Jane's height equals Sue's) have no weak, 'at least' interpretation. Among non-predicative strategies there are implicit and explicit ones: implicit equatives have no marker on the adjectival parameter, e.g. conjoined equatives, like Jane and Sue are tall. They are unmodifiable by measure phrases, and entail that their subject holds the property to a significant degree (i.e. count as tall in the context of utterance). Explicit equatives do overtly mark the adjectival parameter, and I argue that there are two distinct types of explicit equatives, cross-linguistically: those, like English, whose parameter marker is a sufficientive morpheme (e.g. so, as); and those, like many Romance languages, whose parameter marker is a degree demonstrative (e.g. tan, tanto). Neither explicit strategy entails that their standards hold the property to a significant degree, but they differ in that only the former are modifiable by measure phrases. I review tests for each construction, and discuss how to predict these differences theoretically.


  •  Jessica Rett