Comparatives under the microscope (COMIC)

The COMIC‐project investigates the morphology, syntax, and semantics of adjectival comparative constructions of the type illustrated in (1).

(1) Jill is taller than Fred.

Compared to the positive degree (Jill is tall), the comparative construction adds two pieces of material. First, the comparative morpheme –er is added to the adjective tall, and second, the comparative adjective taller introduces the phrase than Fred, which contains the comparative standard Fred, to which Jill is compared. The comparative standard is introduced by the standard marker than. Comparative constructions thus combine morphological marking (the –er‐morpheme), syntactic structure (the than‐phrase), and a semantic interpretation, in which two entities are compared with respect to a certain property (in this example Jill and Fred with respect to their height).

Existing approaches typically study the morphology or the syntax or the semantics of comparative adjectives. This has led to a situation where the outcomes of the different perspectives do not properly link up with one another: semantic analyses do not take into account—and are sometimes incompatible with—typological observations and generalisations, and syntactic and morphological approaches are insufficiently informed by the insights of compositional semantics. The COMIC‐project aims to fill this gap by developing a fully integrated analysis of these three aspects of comparative constructions.

To this end, it investigates the cross‐linguistic macro‐ and microvariation in the expression of adjectival comparison and the comparative standard, with the aim of investigating the hypothesis that there is more morphological and syntactic complexity to comparative adjectives than is conventionally assumed. It will develop a strongly compositional semantics of comparative adjectives and the comparative standard, which is informed and constrained by the findings of the morphological and syntactic investigations.

Read the full project description.