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The ‘nouniness’ of attributive adjectives and ‘verbiness’ of predicative adjectives: evidence from phonology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 March 2020

WILLEM B. HOLLMANN*
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics & English Language, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YL, United Kingdom w.hollmann@lancaster.ac.uk

Abstract

This article investigates prototypically attributive versus predicative adjectives in English in terms of the phonological properties that have been associated especially with nouns versus verbs in a substantial body of psycholinguistic research (e.g. Kelly 1992) – often ignored in theoretical linguistic work on word classes. Inspired by Berg's (2000, 2009) ‘cross-level harmony constraint’, the hypothesis I test is that prototypically attributive adjectives not only align more with nouns than with verbs syntactically, semantically and pragmatically, but also phonologically – and likewise for prototypically predicative adjectives and verbs. I analyse the phonological structure of frequent adjectives from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), and show that the data do indeed support the hypothesis. Berg's ‘cross-level harmony constraint’ may thus apply not only to the entire word classes noun, verb and adjective, but also to these two adjectival subclasses. I discuss several theoretical issues that emerge. The facts are most readily accommodated in a usage-based model, such as Radical Construction Grammar (Croft 2001), where these adjectives are seen as forming two distinct but overlapping classes. Drawing also on recent research by Boyd & Goldberg (2011) and Hao (2015), I explore the possible nature and emergence of these classes in some detail.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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Footnotes

This study contains analysis of existing data available from www.english-corpora.org/coca/ (10 December 2019). I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers and to the Editor, Bernd Kortmann, for their thoughtful comments. Any remaining inaccuracies are of course my own.

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