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Modelling linguistic gradience

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Studies in Language 28:1 (2004), 149.
issn 03784177 / e-issn 15699978John Benjamins Publishing Company
<TARGET "aar" DOCINFO AUTHOR "Bas Aarts"TITLE "Modelling linguistic gradience"SUBJECT "SL, Volume 28:1"KEYWORDS ""SIZE HEIGHT "220"WIDTH "150"VOFFSET "4">
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Bas Aarts
University College London
Many schools of modern linguistics generally adopt a rigid approach to
categorisation by not allowing degrees of form class membership, degrees of
resemblance to a prototype or overlaps between categories. This all-or-none
conception of categorisation (Bolinger 1961) goes back to Aristotle, and has
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been pervasive and inuential, especially in formal linguistics. The alterna-
tive view, prevalent amongst descriptive and cognitive linguists, is to posit
grammars which pervasively display categorial vagueness, more usually
called gradience. In this article I will begin by briey tracing some of the ideas
on gradience in linguistics and philosophy. I will then argue, rstly, that
gradience should have a role to play in language studies (both descriptive and
theoretical). Secondly, I will show that two types of category uidity should
be distinguished. One type I will call Subsective Gradience (SG). It is intra-
categorial in nature, and allows for members of a class to display the proper-
ties of that class to varying degrees. The other type is called Intersective
Gradience (IG). This is an inter-categorial phenomenon which is character-
ised by two form classes converging on each other. Thirdly, I will argue that
while the two types of gradience are grammatically real, IG is not as wide-
spread as is often claimed. Finally, in this article I will attempt to be more
precise about the vague phenomenon of gradience. To this end I will devise a
formalisation of SG and IG, using a number of case studies mainly from
English. The formalism makes use of morphosyntactic tests to establish
whether an item belongs to a particular class or to a bordering one by
weighing up the form class features that apply to the item in question. This
article can be seen to argue for a midway position between the Aristotelian
and the cognitivist conceptions of categorisation in that I will defend a posi-
tion that allows for gradience, but nevertheless maintains sharp boundaries
between categories. The ideas put forward in this article have wider implica-
tions for the study of language, in that they address the problem posed by
the existence of a tension between generally rigidly conceived linguistic
concepts and the continuous phenomena they describe.
2 Bas Aarts
1. Introduction
Does one grain make a heap? Evidently not. Do two grains make a heap? No.
Do one hundred grains make a heap? Yes. Where does one draw the line?
Eubulides of Megaras celebrated Paradox of the Sorites (or Heap) brings to the
fore the problems we face in setting up boundaries in the world around us:
when can we call a collection of grains a heap? Is there a cut-o point such that
n grains of sand form a heap, but n-1 grains do not? What about baldness? Is
there a point at which we can say a man with n hairs is bald, but a man with
n+1 hairs is not?
Philosophers have often struggled with the problem of
delimitation and with the setting up of boundaries. Aristotle held that the
categories which we use to class real-world phenomena are hard and inviolable,
but others have long recognised that they may not be as clearly delimited as he
made them out to be, and that we have to recognise boundary uidity between
taxonomic constructs. This article is about vagueness in grammar. In linguistics
the term gradience is often used to designate this phenomenon. An early book
by Bolinger (1961) illustrated gradience in the acoustic domain. Continuous
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phenomena have received progressively more attention in a number of areas of
language study, often appealing to the notion of prototype, notably socio-
linguistics (Labov 1973, Hudson 1996), psycholinguistics (Rosch and Mervis
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1975, Rosch et al. 1976, Rosch 1978), semantics (Coates 1983, Fuchs and
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Victorri 1994, Wierzbicka 1989, 1990, 1996), typological linguistics (Croft 1991,
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2001) and cognitive linguistics (Lako 1987a, Langacker 1987, 1991; Geeraerts
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1989, Taylor 1995, 1996, 1998; Ungerer and Schmid 1996). Studies of categor-
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isation from a variety of dierent perspectives can be found in the collections of
Corrigan, Eckman and Noonan 1989, and in Tsohatzidis 1990. Most of this
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work has been concerned with the cognitive mechanisms of categorisation.
Thus Labovs well-known 1973 study of drinking vessels investigated which are
the dening characteristics of cups, and at which point a particular drinking
vessel would more adequately be named a mug. For scholars like Taylor, the
central concern is to study the meanings of linguistic forms, and the categor-
isation of the world which a knowledge of these forms entails (Taylor 1995: ix).
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Much less attention has been paid to gradient phenomena in the more narrowly
dened domain of syntax. Here the notion of gradience is often ignored,
especially in the generative paradigm (though see below), or it is taken for
granted without much consideration. True, in at least one major descriptive
grammar of English gradience plays an important role (Quirk et al. 1985), but
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the concept is not dened very precisely there, and no principled account of it
Modelling linguistic gradience 3
is given. In Taylor (1995, 1998) there is some discussion of grammatical
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phenomena, but he really deals with only one dimension of fuzziness, namely
the intracategorial type.
Both the views of the radical categorisationalists, as well as the views of the
gradience-is-everywhere linguists are unsatisfactory: the existence of gradience
in grammar is intuitively plausible, but at the same time there is a danger that
an unfettered use of the notion of gradience leads to sloppy descriptions. The
aim of this article is to study the phenomenon of gradience from a grammatical
perspective. I will attempt to answer the following questions: What exactly is
gradience? How pervasive is it? And can it be formalised? I will claim that there
exist two types of gradience, which I will call Subsective Gradience (SG) and
Intersective Gradience (IG), respectively. SG occurs within a particular class of
linguistic elements, whereas IG obtains between classes of elements (or more
precisely as we will see between sets of properties of classes). The position
I will be arguing for is that gradience is an undeniable property of any categorial
system, including grammatical descriptions, if we conceive of these descriptions
as systematic and idealised representations of the way we believe grammar is
mentally constituted. However, I will claim that recognising gradience in
grammar does not mean that we must abandon the idea that categories have
sharp boundaries. Quite the contrary: I will argue that grammatical form classes
can be strictly kept apart while allowing for them to converge on each other.
Convergence occurs when an element from form class A displays morpho-
syntactic properties of another distinct form class B. Unless the B-like proper-
ties of outweigh the A-like properties, will be assigned to class A. As regards
category boundaries I will argue that methodologically it is preferable to take a
strong hypothesis as ones starting point, and then aim to falsify it. Further-
more, I will show, by discussing a number of case studies proposed in the
literature, that while Subsective Gradience is a widespread and innocuous
property of grammars, Intersective Gradience is much less common, and that
true hybridity is possibly not tolerated by language systems. I will then propose
an intuitively simple and elegant formalisation of SG and IG which employs
morphosyntactic criteria to establish whether an item belongs to a particular
class or to a neigbouring one by weighing up the form class features that apply
to it. I will take a compromise position between the views of the categorisation-
alists and proponents of the gradience-is-everywhere-thesis, resulting in a
more streamlined and constrained notion of gradience in grammar.
4 Bas Aarts
2. Background
The pervasive inuence of Aristotle in the domain of categorisation made itself
felt in the philosophical works of Frege and Russell. The former, one of the
founders of modern logic, held that [t]he law of excluded middle is really just
another form of the requirement that the concept should have a sharp bound-
ary. Any object that you choose to take either falls under the concept or does
not fall under it; tertium non datur. (Frege 1892/1980: 139) For Russell things
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are what they are, and there is an end of it. Nothing is more or less what it is, or
to a certain extent possessed of the properties which it possesses. (Russell
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1923/1996: 62). Notice that both philosophers deny the existence of vague
categories, but in a dierent way: Frege denies the existence of boundary
uidity, while Russell rejects degrees of category membership. Opposed to
Russells ideas were the views of Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose notion of family
resemblances (1953/1958: 31f.) inspired work on Prototype Theory in psycholo-
gy (Rosch 1973a, 1973b, 1975, 1978) and cognitive linguistics (Lako 1987a,
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Langacker 1987, 1991; Taylor 1995, 1996; Ungerer and Schmid 1996).
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In linguistics the all-or-none view was formulated most sharply during the
1960s. Railing against such views as Sapirs dictum that all grammars leak
(1921/1957: 38), Martin Joos held that continuity and gradience must be
shoved outside of linguistics in one direction or the other (1957: 350), and he
vehemently deniedthat gradationor continuity ineither formor meaning, has ever
been found in any language on this planet. (ibid.: 351; emphasis in original)
During the 1960s members of the Prague school of linguistics took an
interest in gradience (Jakobson 1961, Dane 1966, Neustupn 1966), while in
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America Dwight Bolingers well-known Generality, gradience, and the all-or-
none (1961) was in many ways a reaction to the attitudes of linguists like Joos.
For Bolinger, just like in electronics when one stops talking about switches and
begins to talk about potentiometers, one does not necessarily cease talking
about electrical systems (1961a: 1011), and he held that linguists should not
ignore fuzziness in language.
During the 1970s generative semanticists took up a midway position
between descriptivists like Bolinger and the generativists in their use of, and
regard for, linguistic data (cf. Harris 1993: 209f. for discussion): like the
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descriptivists they felt that data are of paramount importance; like the generat-
ivists they felt that these data ought to be dealt with in a formal theory. This
included gradient phenomena.
The most well-known generative semantic defender of fuzziness was John
Modelling linguistic gradience 5
Robert (Haj) Ross, who complained that the law of the Excluded Middle has,
within the broad framework of generative grammar, always been assumed to
hold for most of the predicates used in this theory. (Ross 1974: 111). Rosss
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work on gradient phenomena followed a period during which, along with other
generative semanticists, he argued for category conation, hence his papers
Adjectives as nouns (1969a) and Auxiliaries as main verbs (1969b). In the
early seventies Ross developed the controversial notion of squish (1972, 1973a,
1973b, 1974; see also Ross 1987, 1995, 2000).
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Generative linguists have always been averse to the idea of fuzziness in
grammar (Bever and Caroll 1981, Bouchard 1995, Newmeyer 1998, 2000),
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which is not to say that it has not played a role in the generative paradigm. See
for example Chomsky (1961, 1965, 1955/1975) and Chomsky and Miller (1963)
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on degrees of grammaticalness, and many more recent publications that make
use of graded grammaticality (Belletti and Rizzi 1988, Andrews 1990). Further-
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more, there has been a lot of work in generative grammar on the notion of
markedness (Belletti, Brandi and Rizzi 1981, Chomsky 1981, Battistella 1996)
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which could be regarded as a kind of gradience manqu in that it recognises, not
a pervasive, but only a bi-polar asymmetry within categories.
More recently, there has been a renewed interest in formal linguistics for
categorially fuzzy phenomena. Thus, see Bresnan (1997), Malouf (2000a,
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2000b), and Hudson (2003) on mixed categories, Borsley and Kornlt (2000)
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on a variety of hybrid constructions, and Corver and van Riemsdijk (2001) on
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semi-lexical categories. In Optimality Theory attempts have been made to
formalise the notion of graded grammaticality and well-formedness more
precisely; see e.g. Keller (1997, 1998, 2000) and Hayes (2000). Finally, a recent
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and exciting new approach to syntax is Probability Theory, a theory of language
that rejects rigid categoriality and argues that linguists must make use of the
notion of probability to explain linguistic facts. See especially Manning (2003).
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For a collection of classical papers on fuzzy grammar see Aarts et al. (2004).
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Despite the recent interest in gradient phenomena, the adherents of the
discrete and nondiscrete views of language are, in general, still very much en-
3. What is gradience?
Gradience can be characterised as a grammatical notion which refers to the
(perceived) interlacing of the categories of language systems. Gradient phenomena
6 Bas Aarts
have been argued to exist at all levels of linguistic analysis, from phonology,
morphology and lexis on the one hand, to syntax and semantics on the other.
Gradience has often implicitly been treated as an undierentiated phenomenon
in the linguistic literature. We can, however, clearly distinguish between two
dimensions of gradience namely degree of resemblance to a categorial proto-
type and degree of inter-categorial resemblance. I will here introduce the
terms Subsective Gradience (SG) and Intersective Gradience (IG) to refer to these
two dimensions. The terms SG and IG are intended to model gradience on set
theory: SG is observed in single categories. It allows for a particular element x
from category to be closer to the prototype of than some other element y
from the same category, and recognises a core and periphery within the form
classes of language. By contrast, IG obtains between two categories, such that
they gradually converge on one another by virtue of the fact that there exist
elements which display properties of both categories. In Section 6 I will attempt
to formalise SG and IG, but before doing so, there follows a detailed discussion
of these notions in Sections 4 and 5.
4. Subsective gradience
As we have seen, Subsective Gradience is a phenomenon whereby a particular
set of elements displays a categorial shading from a central core to a more
peripheral boundary. With Subsective Gradience only one set of elements is
involved, whereas with Intersective Gradience there are two sets of elements A
and B, and there is a continuum from A to B. Furthermore, with IG if some-
thing is less A-like, it ipso facto becomes more B-like, whereas with SG, if
something is less centrally A-like, it does not necessarily become more like some
other class. I will return to this point in Section 6.
In Sections 4.14.3 below I will present without comment a number
of case studies of SG from the linguistic literature which will be discussed
critically in Section 4.4.
4.1 SG within word classes: Nouns and adjectives
Crystal (1967), writing on the English word classes, argues that the best way to
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dene a word class is by listing the phonological, morphological, lexical,
semantic and syntactic criteria that pertain to it. He provides four criteria for
nounhood in order of statistical prominence:
Modelling linguistic gradience 7
Ability to act as subject
Ability to take number inection
Ability to coocur with an article
Ability to take a nominal sux
The class of nouns is then modelled as a set of intersecting circles each of which
represents a subset of nouns which conform to one or more of the criteria listed
above. The intersection of all the circles constitutes the central class. Notice
that Crystals criteria are not exclusively syntactic. See also Ross (1973b) on
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degrees of nouniness.
Turning to adjectives, consider the words thin and utter. Both of these are
indisputably adjectives. Yet thin is arguably a more typical exemplar of the class
of adjectives than utter. This is so because purely on grammatical grounds thin
behaves syntactically in a more adjective-like way than utter as the criteria in the
matrix below and the examples in (1) and (2) make clear:
Can head a phrase that
occurs in attributive
Can head a phrase that
occurs in predicative
Can be preceded by
an intensier

(1) a thin man (attributive position)

he is thin (predicative position)
very thin (intensied)
thin/ thinner / thinnest (graded)
(2) an utter disgrace
*the problem is utter
*very utter
*utter / utterer / utterest
The criteria in this matrix do not exhaust the ways in which we can show that
thin has more distributional freedom than utter. Thin is semantically and
communicatively much more versatile: it has clear lexical content, and can be
used both literally (This wall is so thin: we can hear everything the neighbours say)
and metaphorically (His arguments were a bit thin). By contrast, utter is seman-
tically almost depleted of meaning, and close to having only an intensifying
function, much like very. We can revise the matrix above as follows:
8 Bas Aarts
Can head a phrase
that occurs in
attrib. pos.
Can head a phrase
that occurs in
predic. pos.
Can be
preceded by
an intensier

4.2 SG within phrases: Noun phrases

Ross (1973a) deals with noun phrasiness, a theme he took up again in a
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lengthy 1995 article. He shows that the element there is an NP, on the basis of
sentences like At no time were there believed to have been ies in this cake, were
there? where Raising, Passivisation, Number Agreement and Tag Formation
apply). Nevertheless, there is less typically an NP than copper clad, brass-
bottomed NPs like Harpo (1973a: 96), as is evidenced by the fact that its
distributional possibilities are extremely limited. Frederick Newmeyer
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(1998: 187190) discusses the following data selected from Rosss article (some
of the examples are Newmeyers):
(3) Promotion
a. Harpos being willing to return surprised me. / Harpo surprised me
by being willing to return.
b. There being heat in the furnace surprised me. / *There surprised me
by being heat in the furnace.
(4) Double raising
a. John is likely to be shown to have cheated.
*There is likely to be shown to be no way out of this shoe.
(5) Think of as NP
a. I thought of Freud as being wiggy.
b. *I thought of there as being too much homework.
(6) Whats doing X?
a. Whats he doing in jail?
b. *Whats there doing being no mistrial?
(7) Being deletion
a. Hinswood (being) in the tub is a funny thought.
b. There *(being) no more Schlitz is a funny thought.
(8) Left dislocation
a. Those guys, theyre smuggling my armadillo to Helen.
Modelling linguistic gradience 9
b. *There, there are three armadillos in the road.
(9) Tough movement
a. John will be dicult to prove to be likely to win.
b. *There will be dicult to prove likely to be enough to eat.
(10) Topicalisation
a. John, I dont consider very intelligent.
b. *There, I dont consider to be enough booze in the eggnog.
(11) Swooping
a. I gave Sandra my zwieback, and she didnt want any. / I gave Sandra,
and she didnt want any, my zwieback.
b. I nd there to be no grounds for contempt proceedings, and there
may have been previously. / *I nd there, which may have been pre-
viously, to be no grounds for contempt proceedings.
(12) Equi
a. After he laughed politely, Oliver wiped his mustache. / After laughing
politely, Oliver wiped his mustache.
b. After there is a confrontation, theres always some good old-time
head-busting. / *After being a confrontation, theres always some
good old-time head-busting
(13) Conjunction reduction
a. Manny wept and Sheila wept. / Manny and Sheila wept.
b. There were diplodocuses, there are platypuses, and there may well
also be diplatocodypuses. / *There were diplodocuses, are platypuses,
and may well also be diplatocodypuses.
Consider also the data below from an unpublished 1981 article by Ross which
are intended to show that idioms like (14)(17) behave dierently with respect
to a number of rules, depending on the degree of nouniness of the nouns
contained inside them.
(14) to stub ones toe
(15) to hold ones breath
(16) to lose ones way
(17) to take ones time
Ross noticed that there are restrictions on the distribution of these idiomatic
(18) A stubbed toe can be very painful
10 Bas Aarts
(19) *Held breath is usually fetid when released
(20) *A lost way has been the cause of many a missed appointment
(21) *Taken time might tend to irritate your boss
(22) I stubbed my toe, and she hers
(23) I held my breath, and she hers
(24) *I lost my way, and she hers
(25) *I took my time, and she hers
(26) Betty and Sue stubbed their toes
(27) *Betty and Sue stubbed their toe
(28) Betty and Sue held their breaths
(29) Betty and Sue held their breath
(30) *Betty and Sue lost their ways
(31) Betty and Sue lost their way
(32) *Betty and Sue took their times
(33) Betty and Sue took their time
Lako (1987a: 64) adds the data below:
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(34) I stubbed my toe, but didnt hurt it
(35) Sam held his breath for a few seconds, and then released it
(36) Harry lost his way, but found it again
(37) *Harry took his time, but wasted it
(18)(21) show that only the verb stub can appear in its participle form in
attributive position, while (22)(25) demonstrate that gapping is possible only
in clauses coordinated with stub ones toe and hold ones breath. Sentences
(26)(33) show that stub ones toe and hold ones breath both allow pluralisation,
while only the latter allows a singular as well. By contrast, lose ones way and take
ones time act alike in not allowing pluralisation. Lakos data in (34)(37) show
that only take ones time resists pronominalisation. The upshot of all these
ndings, according to Ross, is that dierent idioms behave dierently with
respect to each of the rules, depending on the degree of nouniness of the nouns
contained inside them. This results in the following nouniness scale:
(where toe is the nouniest noun)
Modelling linguistic gradience 11
4.3 SG within constructions
In Rosss later work, specically Ross (1987), a plea is made for the notion of
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prototype syntax, which allows for particular elements or congurations of
elements to be more prototypical if their distribution is maximally uncon-
strained. Under this view the adjective thin is a more prototypical member of its
class than utter, as we sawabove. Ross extends this idea to constructions, and in
doing so introduces the notion of viability:
The idea here is that it is possible for a sentence to deviate from a prototype,
and yet not manifest any drop in acceptability. Losses in viability are cumula-
tive, and only when there have been enough of them for a certain threshold
value to be exceeded will the speakers of the language perceive that the sen-
tence is less than perfect. (Ross 1987: 310)
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As an example from Rosss article, consider the three pseudocleft constructions
(38) What Molly discovered was a Grand Unied Theory.
(39) Where Molly lived was in London.
(40) What Molly is is brilliant.
According to Ross, (38) with an NP in the focus position is more prototypically
a pseudocleft construction than (39) which contains a focused PP. (39) in its
turn is a more typical pseudocleft than (40). Ross substantiates his intuitions by
showing that (38) is distributionally more versatile than (39) or (40), as
(41)(43) show:
(41) Was what Molly discovered a Grand Unied Theory?
Was where Molly lived in London?
*Is what Molly is brilliant?
The acceptability of the interrogative pseudoclefts is seento be linked to the degree
of prototypicality possessed by their non-interrogative counterparts. Similarly,
adding an auxiliary verb in (44)(46) belowleads to a progressive loss in viability:
(44) What Molly discovered might be a Grand Unied Theory.
Where Molly lived might be in London.
*What Molly is might be brilliant.
See also Ross (2000) on pseudoclefts. On syntactic prototypes, see also Winters
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(1990) and Taylor (1998).
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12 Bas Aarts
4.4 SG in grammar
In his early work Ross did not distinguish between SG and IG. His 1972 article
is clearly concerned with intercategorial fuzziness, while his 1973 articles deal
with subsective shadings. Rosss squishes have been severely criticised. For
Georey Pullum squishes are a complete red herring, without descriptive or
theoretical value of any kind (1976: 20). For Newmeyer fuzziness is not part of
the grammar, but merely a by-product of performance. In discussing Rosss
work on there (see Section 4.2 above) in his 1998 book he claims that all the
distributional peculiarities of there follow from the lexical semantics of there
and the pragmatics of its use (1998: 189). The data in (3)b and (5)b are
explained, so argues Newmeyer, because elements like there, whether they are
construed as meaningless elements or otherwise, cannot occur in the positions
shown because they are not able to intrude into ones consciousness (ibid.).
(6)b is bad for a similar reason: abstract settings, etc., cannot themselves act;
rather they are the setting for action (ibid.). (7)b is ruled out because there is not
followedby anexistential verb. Sentences (8)(10) demonstrate that elements like
there cannot act as discourse topics, while the starredexamples in(11) and(12) are
bad because there cannot be modied (it is not clear how this is relevant to (12),
though). Finally, Newmeyer considers (4)b and (13)b acceptable.
Rosss NP-squish shown in (18)(37) has also been criticised, notably in
Bouchard (1995: 31f.) and in Newmeyer (1998: 190193). Bouchard notes that
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all the tests depend on NP-referentiality, but stops short of couching this
observation in a coherent alternative explanation of the facts. For example, all
that he says about (26)(33) is that [p]luralization raises the problem of
distributive eects and of factors like the count/mass distinction; again aspects
of referentiality (1995: 32). But this statement is opaque, and less than forth-
coming in oering a viable novel perspective. Bouchard appeals to pragmatics to
explain the unacceptability of (37) by claiming that it is bad only because it
describes anoddsituation. (37) is contrastedwith (47) which he deems to be ne:
(47) Instead of giving his time to a good cause, Harry wasted it.
Note, though, that this example involves a dierent idiom(give his time vs. take
his time). As for the data in (34)(37), for Bouchard in the idioms stub ones toe
and take ones time toe is not a better example of a N than time; it is a better
example of a THING. (1995: 33).
For Newmeyer the judgements in (18)(37) also do not follow from the
degree of prototypicality of the NPs inside the idiom chunks in question, but
Modelling linguistic gradience 13
fromindependently needed principles. (19) and (20) are impossible because held
and taken can never occur as premodifying elements. Newmeyers argument is
severely weakened, however, when he is forced to concede that this explanation
does not account for the badness of (20), giventhat we cansay e.g. a lost cause. The
facts in(24) and(25) are explainedby appealing todiscourse factors. Consider the
following data taken from Newmeyers book (1998: 192; his (40)):
(48) a. I lost my way, and she her way.
b. I took my time, and she her time.
I ate my ice cream and she hers.
d. In the race to get to the airport, Mary and John lost their way, but
we didnt lose ours (and so we won).
Newmeyer argues, contra Ross, that gapping is possible for lose ones way and
take ones time (cf. (48)a/b), and surmises that it apparently requires a con-
trastive focus reading of the gapped constituent. Hence [(48)c] seems as bad as
[(24)] and [(25)], while [(48)d] is ne. (1998: 192). The claim regarding
gapping is unclear, and in general the reasoning is rather nebulous (notice the
hedges apparently and seems). Whats more, I do not see why (48)c should
be queried. It is certainly not as bad as (24)/(25). Newmeyer is aware of this,
because he puts only a question mark in front of (48)c, despite claiming that it
seems grammatically equally bad as (24)/(25). An additional problem for
Newmeyer is that he argues for pragmatic explanations of the data, but it is not
clear whether the contrastive focus requirement for (48)a/b is a grammatical
or a pragmatic constraint.
Turning to the data in (26)(33), Newmeyer, like Bouchard, puts forward
the possibility that they fall out from the fact that toes and breaths can be
individuated, but not ways and times. Finally, he disagrees with Ross by
showing that time in the idiom to take ones time in fact is pronominalisable if
we change the wording slightly:
(49) a. Harry took his time and wasted it.
b. Harry took his time, which doesnt mean that he didnt nd a way to
waste it.
Criticism of Rosss work is justied in many cases in that his data, and his judge-
ments of the data, are not always clear. Ross was well aware of the drawbacks of his
article, and that his ndings were not couched in a theory (see 1973a: 128).
While certainly not all of his data are convincing, and he oers the reader a
mass of often not very transparent facts, he does convincingly demonstrate that
14 Bas Aarts
members of form classes do not possess the same distributional potential.
Appealing to pragmatic/ discoursal explanations for these limited distributions,
as Newmeyer and Bouchard do, is attractive some cases. In other cases it is not.
For example, it would be hard to think of a pragmatic/ discoursal reason for the
fact that we can say a happy chil d and the chil d is happy / very
happy/ happier/ happiest, but not *the fool is utter/ *very utter/ *utterer/ *utterest.
Whats worse is that Newmeyer and Bouchards alternative pragmatic /
discoursal explanations for the degrees of prototypicality of class members
perceived by Ross are couched in the most general and ethereal terms, and
sometimes make the wrong predictions. They do not (as yet) add up to a
plausible alternative in the shape of a well-reasoned and coherent pragmatic
theory of fuzziness.
As one of the dimensions of gradience, Subsective Gradience is a property
of grammar that can be demonstrated through a systematic investigation of the
distributional properties of formatives. Attempts to give SG a bad press are
without much force, because no viable alternative to explain the facts is oered.
Whats more, so long as we do not confuse the notion of shades of proto-
typicality within classes with the idea of degrees of class membership, it is
unclear why linguists would object to recognising SG in grammar, given that it
does not involve grammatical indeterminacy as such. It should therefore be
unproblematic for any framework that wishes to defend strict Aristotelian
categorisation. After all, just as for William Blake A Good Apple tree or a bad,
is an Apple tree still: a Horse is not more a Lion for being a bad Horse,
we can
say that a noun is a noun, a Noun Phrase is a Noun Phrase, and a cleft construc-
tion is a cleft construction, even if there exist instances which are not proto-
typical exemplars. I will return to this issue in Section 6.2.
5. Intersective gradience
Sections 5.15.3 will discuss some cases of IG that have been put forward in the
literature. As in Section 4, I present these cases here without endorsing them or
rejecting them; they will be evaluated in Section 5.4.
5.1 IG between word classes: adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions
Consider the following examples, taken from Bolinger (1971: 2627):
<LINK "aar-r12">
Modelling linguistic gradience 15
(50) He ran down the road.
(51) She swept o the stage.
(52) We backed up the stream.
If we replace the nal NPs by pronouns we get:
(53) He ran down it. (did his running somewhere down the road)
(54) She swept o it. (did her sweeping somewhere not on the stage)
(55) We backed up it. (did our backing at some point upstream)
Bolinger argues that the set immediately above diers from the one below:
(56) He ran down it. (descended it)
(57) He swept o it. (departed from it majestically)
(58) We backed up it. (ascended it in reverse direction)
The elements down, o and up are prepositions in the last two sets of sentences.
However, Bolinger claims that in (56)(58) these elements are in constituency
both with the verb that precedes them, as well as with the NP that follows. He
calls them adpreps (1971: 28),
i.e. elements that are prepositions and adverbs
simultaneously. As such, they can be said to be positioned in the intersection of
the adverb and preposition classes.
Jacobsson (1977) expands on the distinction between adverbs and preposi-
<LINK "aar-r52">
tions, and includes conjunctions in a discussion of gradience, or intergradation
as he calls it, between these word classes. First, consider the gradience that
obtains between prepositions and conjunctions. Central prepositions are
characterised by three criteria (1977: 4041):
1. They cannot be followed by a that-clause (*We are aware of that he is ill.)
2. They cannot coocur with an innitive (*I am uncertain of to go or not.)
3. They cannot be followed by a personal pronoun in the subjective case.
(*between I and you)
Central conjunctions, by contrast, conform to either of two criteria:
1. They coordinate sentences, clauses or constituents of the same grammatical
2. They introduce subordinate clauses.
If we apply Jacobssons criteria to the element after in the examples below, we
nd that it ostensibly belongs to dierent parts of speech: it is a preposition in
(59) and a subordinating conjunction in (60). Although syntactically distinct,
16 Bas Aarts
these form classes are argued to be intersectively gradient: the element after is
positioned in the intersection of the preposition and conjunction classes.
(59) I saw her after the concert.
(60) I saw her after she left the concert.
There have been other accounts of categorial overlap in the literature; see e.g.
Ross (1972) for an example of a verb>adjective>noun gradient, and for an
<LINK "aar-r85">
example of a subsquish (1972: 318) in which near is on a cline from true
adjectives to true prepositions. See also Maling (1983) and Denison (2001). I
<LINK "aar-r65"> <LINK "aar-r31">
turn now to a case of IG between phrases.
5.2 IG between phrases
Leech and Li (1995) discuss the grammatical indeterminacy between Noun
Phrases and Adjective Phrases functioning as subject attributes and object
attributes. They note that NPs in these positions resemble APs in a number of
respects. For example, in a sentence like (61) belowthe object attribute appears
without an article, turning it into a quasi-adjectival element.
(61) A U.S. marine says he was tortured and sentenced to death while he
was held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
In (62) the nominal expression appears to be gradable, a typical adjectival
(62) Mrs. Tyler is nding it a bit of a strain looking after her on deck.
Finally, consider (63) and (64):
(63) They have found the area a desirable place.
(64) and the constant passage of heavy and rapidly increasing trac made
them a danger to the community.
In (63) the NP a desirable place contains what Leech and Li call a dummy noun,
which is so devoid of meaning that the NP as a whole can easily be replaced by
the AP desirable on its own. In (64) there is number discord between the
postverbal NP them and the attribute a danger. This can be explained if we
regard the noun danger as being adjectival, and if adjectives are singular by
default, as Leech and Li argue.
Modelling linguistic gradience 17
5.3 IG between higher projections: constructional gradience
Givn (1986: 96) proposes a gradient between imperatives and declaratives, as
<LINK "aar-r41">
(65) Do it! =Most prototypical imperative
(66) You might as well do it.
(67) I suggest that you do it.
(68) It would be nice if you did it.
(69) It would be nice if it were done.
(70) It needs to be done. =Most prototypical declarative
(65) and (70) are at the extremes of a perceived continuum, such that both
functionally and syntactically (65) is prototypically an imperative, while (70) is
prototypically a declarative.
Perhaps the most often cited instance of a constructionally hybrid con-
struction in English is the gerund. Many authors have noted that gerunds
display nominal properties in their external distribution, and verbal properties
in their internal syntactic make-up. Quirk et al. (1985: 12901291) list the
<LINK "aar-r80">
following sentences to demonstrate a gradient from purely nominal to purely
verbal elements:
(71) some paintings of Browns
(72) Browns paintings of his daughters
(73) The painting of Brown is as skilful as that of Gainsborough.
(74) Browns deft painting of his daughter is a delight to watch.
(75) Browns deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch.
(76) I dislike Browns painting his daughter.
(77) I dislike Brown painting his daughter.
(78) I watched Brown painting his daughter.
(79) Brown deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch.
(80) Painting his daughter, Brown noticed that his hand was shaking.
(81) Brown painting his daughter that day, I decided to go for a walk.
(82) The man painting the girl is Brown.
(83) The silently painting man is Brown.
(84) Brown is painting his daughter.
18 Bas Aarts
In (71)(74) painting is clearly nominal by virtue of the plural -s ending in (71)
and (72), the PP complement in (73) and the premodifying adjective in (74). In
(77)(84) painting would appear to be verbal, by virtue of the fact that in most
of these cases it takes a nominal complement. ((83) is an exception, but can be
said to be verbal because of the preceding adverb.) The fuzzy examples are (75)
and (76), which are traditionally called gerunds. They combine a possessive
element (typical of NPs) with a nominal complement (typical of VPs). Strictly
speaking, (75) and (76) ought to be interchanged, as in (75) the adverb deftly
modies painting, thus making it more verbal than painting in (76), which lacks
this modier. However, as we will see, (76) can potentially also take this
modier. Further examples of constructional gradience can be found in Quirk
<LINK "aar-r80">
et al. (1985) who discuss, amongst other phenomena, a fuzzy boundary
between subordination and coordination and in Taylor (1998).
<LINK "aar-r89">
5.4 IG in grammar
In the work of linguists who advocate the pervasive existence of gradience the
following dubious strategy is often employed: as their starting point they
employ a number of (often traditional) categories which they subsequently set
out to undermine by claiming that the boundaries between them are vague. In
other words, a grammatical description is assumed which posits a number of
form classes , and , which, though syntactically distinct, are argued to be on
a cline, i.e. intersectively gradient. Aconcrete example is Jacobssons description
of adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions, which I discussed in Section 5.1.
Jacobsson aprioristically assumes that these three distinct grammatical catego-
ries exist. Close examination then reveals the perception that the three catego-
ries are in fact hard to keep apart, i.e. that there is gradience between them.
What Jacobsson does not consider is the possibility that the taxonomy which he
used as a starting point may in fact have been awed. It is important to see that
the existence and extent of pervasiveness of IG are a function of the categories
of the adopted taxonomic framework. Thus, for example, if it is claimed that
there is boundary uidity between two categories and , then it must rst be
established that and actually exist as form classes, i.e. that they are gram-
matically real. Inother words, the well-motivated setting up of discrete categories
of formclasses is logically prior to claiming that gradience obtains between them.
Langacker (1987: 19) seems to be making this point when he observes that
<LINK "aar-r62">
Modelling linguistic gradience 19
to posit a continuum is not to abandon the goal of rigorous description: we
must still describe the individual structures in explicit detail, even as we
articulate their parameters of gradation.
However, he also claims (1987: 18) that most grammatical categories cannot be
precisely delimited, as is clear from the passage below:
[Another] dimension of the discreteness issue concerns the propriety of
positing sharp distinctions between certain broad classes of linguistic phenom-
ena, thereby implying that the classes are fundamentally dierent in character
and in large measure separately describable. The nondiscrete alternative
regards these classes as grading into one another along various parameters.
They forma continuous spectrum(or eld) of possibilities, whose segregation
into distinct blocks is necessarily artifactual.
Langackers views lead to a conundrum, because these two points of view work
in opposite directions. The problem is this: if you are able to rigorously
describe categories in such a way that they are characterised exhaustively and
mutually exclusively, then logically gradience simply ceases to exist, because in
categorisation rigorous description must mean setting up Aristotelian catego-
ries that do not allow multiple class membership or fuzzy boundaries. If
Langacker were to deny this, and claim that this is not what rigorous
description means, then the burden is on him to make clear what he does mean
by that phrase. It is perhaps paradoxical for adherents of gradience models that
their starting point must always be rigiddiscreteness. Returning toJacobsson, and
bearing the observations above in mind, I would like to argue that Jacobssons
purported case of IGis infact a bogus one. Ever since Emonds (1976: 172f.)
it has
<LINK "aar-r34">
been common to conate the categories preposition and conjunction. In each of
the cases below the italicised element is claimed to be a preposition.
(85) a. John arrived before the last speech.
b. John arrived before the last speech ended.
c. John arrived before (hand).
(86) a. I havent seen him since the party began.
b. I havent seen him since the party.
c. I havent seen him since.
The only dierence between the dierent instantiations of before and since is
that in the a-sentences the preposition takes a nominal complement; in the
b-sentences it takes a clausal complement, while in the c-sentences the preposi-
tion is intransitive. If this is correct, then simply by looking more closely at the
20 Bas Aarts
data we eliminate the fuzziness perceived by Jacobsson, and we can do away
with the boundary between prepositions and conjunctions, at least as far as
elements such as before and since are concerned. I will return to the idea of
looking more closely in Section 6.
The second case of IG we looked at was posited by Leech and Li. As noted,
Leech and Li state that their concern is with grammatical indeterminacy
between NPs and APs (i.e. Intersective Gradience), and they show that in
certain contexts NPs become adjectival. In fact, however, their data do not
demonstrate indeterminacy at all. Instead, what the authors data support is that
there exist degrees of prototypical NPs la Ross; that is to say, their data
instantiate Subsective Gradience. All their adjectival NPs are nominal (they are
headed by elements that can occur in the frame Det Adj X, where only nouns
can occur). From the concluding remarks of their article it is clear that Leech
and Li fundamentally confuse IG and SG, as other authors have done, because
in spite of their concern with IG, they use the notion of prototype to explain
their data. In short, their article fails in its professed aim to demonstrate
intersective grammatical indeterminacy, but can protably be salvaged if we
reinterpret it as being a case study of SG.
What about IG between constructions? Despite claiming that the gradient
between (65) and (70) is functionally and structurally motivated, Givn
explains it only with reference to such notions as the power / authority relation
between speaker and hearer, speaker urgency in getting something done, etc.
Syntactically, however, it is impossible to see how (65) shades into (70).
Turning now to the English gerund, as we have seen, this term is used to
refer to a construction which fuses verbal and nominal elements, and it argu-
ably represents a real case of IG. Thus, in (76) above the nominal properties are
the genitival premodier, the fact that an adjectival modier can be inserted
before painting, and the fact that the italicised portion occurs in a typical
nominal position. The verbal properties are the -ing ending and the presence of
a nominal complement without of. I will return to the gerund in a later section.
In conclusion, Intersective Gradience does occur in language, but it is much
less pervasive than is often claimed. By looking more closely some perceived
instances of IG simply melt away, or can be subsumed under SG.
Modelling linguistic gradience 21
6. Modelling gradience
In this section I will endeavour to formalise the notion of gradience, after
discussing a number of previous attempts found in the literature. I will defend
a view of gradience which recognises sharp boundaries between categories.
Assignment of an element to a particular class takes place by examining and
enumerating the morphosyntactic properties of that element. If displays
properties of more than one category, then we speak of convergence. Thus if
displays morphosyntactic properties predominantly associated with class A, but
also a number of properties associated with class B, then A converges on B. If on
the other hand the B-like properties of outweigh the A-like properties, will
be assigned to class B. The proposed metric is not without problems. I will
address them in Section 6.4.2.
6.1 Previous formalisations
Despite the widespread recognition of linguistic gradience, I am aware of only a
few attempts to formalise it. One was made by the Prague school linguist
Neustupn for whom the main task of todays linguistics is to determine the
full extent of vagueness, to analyse and explainit and to make possible the combi-
nation of its thorough consideration with the stream of the world linguistic
tradition (1966: 39; footnote omitted). He makes a distinction between what
he calls discourse vagueness and systemic vagueness. The rst term refers to
vagueness amongst real world objects, while the second termrefers to vagueness
within a system, such as language. In addition, Neustupn recognises approxi-
mation vagueness, which obtains when a linguistic element starts to resemble
another element (the example he gives is of marginal glottal stops resembling
/h/), and annihilation vagueness. The latter obtains when a particular element
approximates zero (for example, a glottal stop becoming almost unarticulated).
Neustupns article is an attempt to apply a logical theory of vagueness to
linguistic data (ibid.: 40f.), specically that of Kubin ski, who proposes a number
of operators, as listed below:
is undoubtedly; example: (xy) would mean x is undoubtedly y
is rather; example; (xyz) would mean x is rather y, than z
is rather something, than not-something; example: (xy) would mean x
is rather y, than not-y
to the same degree; example: (xyz) would mean x is y and z in the
same degree.
22 Bas Aarts
Neustupn exemplies these operators linguistically by giving examples of how
they might be used in a situation where there is an element whose wordhood is
in doubt. For example, to express the fact that some element E is not clearly one
word, nor clearly two words, but closer to being one word than being two, we
can use the -operator. The following system is oered (1966: 42):
xy xyz xyz xzy xz
centre of y periphery of y boundary periphery of z centre of z
In this table the element x is on the boundary of y and z, i.e. equidistant
from y and z. Neustupn asserts that he is convinced that by using the terms
vagueness, margin, boundary, periphery and centre we come much closer in
linguistics to the requirements of a dialectal way of thinking. Hard and fast
lines, forcibly xed boundary lines and dierences in classes are no longer
prescribed to us as logical necessities. (ibid.: 42). Neustupns model is very
attractive and promising, and my formalisation below will be seen to have
anities with it.
Another logical approach to linguistic vagueness is found in the work of
Lofti Zadeh (1965, 1987), who developed the notion of fuzzy set theory, which
<LINK "aar-r100">
inuenced Lako (see e.g. Lako 1973). Zadeh argued that membership of a set
<LINK "aar-r61">
is not an either-or aair, but a matter of degree, and a fuzzy set is a class in which
the transition from membership to non-membership is gradual rather than
abrupt (Zadeh 1972: 4). Without mentioning Zadeh, Ross works out the idea of
<LINK "aar-r100">
degrees of membershipfor the class of nouns inhis Nouniness article (1973b:141):
>>>>>More nouny>>>>>
that >for to>Q>Acc Ing>Poss Ing>Action Nominal >Derived Nominal >Noun
Here are some examples of the proposed cline:
(87) a. that =that-clauses (that Max gave the letters to Frieda)
b. for to=for NP to V X (for Max to have given the letters to Frieda)
c. Q=embedded questions (howwillingly Max gave the letters to Frieda)
d. Acc ing=[[NP], [+Acc]] V+ing X(Max giving the letters to Frieda)
e. Poss ing=NPs V + -ing X (Maxs giving the letters to Frieda)
f. Action Nominal (Maxs / the giving of the letters to Frieda)
g. Derived Nominal (Maxs / the gift of the letters to Frieda)
h. Noun (spatula)
Modelling linguistic gradience 23
Ross proposes that
what is necessary is a relaxation of the claim that sequences of elements either
are or are not members of some constituent class, like NP, V, S, etc. Rather I
suggest, we must allow membership to a degree. Thus in particular, I propose
that the previously used node S, sentence, be replaced by a feature [aS], where
a ranges over the real numbers in [0,1]. Each of the complement types in [(87)]
would be given a basic value of a, and rules, lters, and other types of semantic
processes, would be given upper and lower threshold values of a between
which they operate. Ross (1973b: 188; footnote omitted)
<LINK "aar-r85">
We arrive at (88) which shows a degree of membership-squish:
(88) that S
for to
Acc ing
Poss ing
Action nominal
Derived Nominal
[1, 0 S]
[0, 0 S]
InRoss (1987, 2000) a mechanismis proposedfor dealing withviability, as dened
<LINK "aar-r85">
in Section 4.3, using a viability prex, such that 0P100, where if P is 50 or
less, the sentence it prexes will be heard as ungrammatical to various degrees
(say,?40,??30,?*20 , *10, **=0), and if P is between 51 and 100,
it will be given various degrees of syntactic well-being. (Ross 2000: 415).
<LINK "aar-r85">
Quirk (1965) attempted to systematise linguistic vagueness by investigating
<LINK "aar-r80">
a way of visually representing what he called a serial relationship (henceforth
SR) between categories. In Quirks words:
An item a
in any set of structures whose similarity we are studying must be
analysed in such a way as to demonstrate (1) all the features it shares with a
in the set, (2) the features which make it unique, and (3) the features shared
with the item a
. The kind of overlapping gradience plotted for x, y, and z [in
the table immediately below] constitutes what we have come to call serial
relationship, and z would be said to be serially related to x on the one hand
and to y on the other. (1965: 210)







24 Bas Aarts
This tables visualises the serial relationship between the elements x, y and z,
which is obscured in its notationally rearranged, but otherwise equivalent,
counterpart below:





Quirks article contains few real language examples, though the table below
oers a clear illustration:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8














The verbs in the table above are classied with regard to the following frames:
1. They V so.
2. They V that he is Adj.
3. It is Ved that he is Adj.
4. They V him to be Adj.
5. He is Ved to be Adj.
6. They V him Adj.
7. He is Ved Adj.
8. They V him N.
Modelling linguistic gradience 25
An interesting claim the article makes is that constructions containing certain
verbs, like say in He is said to be very clever, are possibly derived from similar
constructions containing serially related verbs, in this case feel and know(cf. He
is felt / known to be very clever), rather than from a nonexisting active construc-
tion (cf. *They say him to be very clever). Quirk calls this phenomenon vertical
derivation. This refers to the way in which the verb say is sandwiched between
feel and know on the vertical axis of the table above. Vertical derivation is
opposed to horizontal derivation which would be a classical transformational
relationship between properties 4 and 5. For further examples of serial relation-
ships, see Svartvik (1966) and Coates (1971).
<LINK "aar-r88"> <LINK "aar-r22">
Despite Quirks reference to gradience, serial relationships only bear a
supercial similarity to that notion. While grammatical gradience involves the
elements of two or more classes or constructions overlapping or merging with
each other in some way, SRs are the result of a dynamic shifting process within
the system of a language which allows for an explanation of the existence of an
otherwise unexpected patterning. Thus, in the example above, by virtue of being
positioned between feel and knowin the matrix we canexplain the existence of He
is saidto be Adj., despite the fact that anactive counterpart of this sentence does not
exist. Nevertheless, SRs at least bear a family resemblance to IG.
More recently, John Anderson has written on gradience:
Categorial properties leak, but arguably in an orderly, hierarchical fashion.
Not only is it possible in principle to distinguish non-central members of the
word classes, but also, among these, there can be some which show properties
more centrally associated with another minimally distinct class; moreover,
these properties may even spread to more remote classes, but less so. (Anderson
<LINK "aar-r2">
1997: 73)
This clearly bears anities with what I have termed Subsective and Intersective
Gradience. For Anderson word classes are composed of features, as follows:
(89) {P} {P;N} {P:N} {N;P} {N} { }
aux verb adjective noun name functor
P and N stand for the features Predicativity and Nominal / referential. The
notation {A;B} is intended to symbolise that a category is characterised by the
features A and B, but that A is more dominant. In the case of {A:B} the
features simply combine. As for gradience, Anderson distinguishes between
what he calls strong gradience and relative gradience. The former is the
Sorites type of gradience proposed by Bolinger where there is an indenite
26 Bas Aarts
number of intermediate positions between two points on a cline. The latter is
exemplied in Andersons gradient shown below (1997: 72):
(90) 4P::0N 3P::1N 2P::2N 1P::3N 0P::4N 0P,0N
aux verb adjective noun name functor
Here each word class is dened in terms of the preponderance (ibid.) of the
features P and N, as expressed by the integers, determined as follows:
X alone = 4
X; = 3
X: = 2
;X = 1
absence of X = 0
I will return to Andersons work below.
6.2 Evaluating subsective and intersective gradience
Much research in the latter part of the twentieth century has shown that
categories are structured around prototypes, and it is not unreasonable to
suppose that this is true for grammatical categories as well. To be sure, there are
dierences between categories of real world objects (like those researched by
Rosch and her associates) and grammatical categories. Thus, in an obvious
sense real world objects are out there (i.e. concrete), whereas grammatical
categories clearly are not. Secondly, the nature of the criterial attributes used to
characterise grammatical categories are by their very nature abstract, whereas
the attributes of conceptual categories, far from being the abstract entities of
autonomous linguistics, are properties of real-world entities which are readily
accessible (how could it be otherwise?) to competent users of a language in
virtue of their acquaintance with the world around them. (Taylor 1995: 41).
<LINK "aar-r89">
Finally, Labovs work (1973) has shown that experimental prototypicality
judgements by subjects on three-dimensional containers such as cups and mugs
can be inuenced by the extra-linguistic environment. Clearly, the extra-
linguistic context plays no role in the assignment of elements to linguistic
classes. However we dene a form class linguistically, the real world context in
which it is used (as opposed to the intra-sentential context) has no bearing on
that denition.
Nevertheless, despite these observed dierences between conceptual and
grammatical categories, it makes sense to speak of grammatical prototypes, to
Modelling linguistic gradience 27
the extent that certain formatives display more or fewer characteristics of the
class they belong to. We can therefore accept Taylors assertion, that at least
there is a very remarkable parallelism [my emphasis] between the structure of
conceptual categories and the structure of linguistic categories. Just as there are
central and marginal members of the conceptual category bird, so too a linguistic
category like noun has representative and marginal members. (1995: 17475)
As for Intersective Gradience, it can be regarded as an instance of categorial
indeterminacy or vagueness which obtains when elements display syntactic
characteristics of more than one category. The notion of vagueness has been the
focus of philosophical thinking for much of the twentieth century (see e.g. the
collection of articles in Keefe & Smith 1996, and Keefe 2000). In this article I
<LINK "aar-r56"> <LINK "aar-r56">
will adopt a Russellian view of vagueness. Bertrand Russell (1923/1996) argued
<LINK "aar-r86">
that vagueness can only exist in the eye of the beholder. The real world, he held,
is discrete and not vague at all. What is potentially vague are representations.
One of Russells examples in making this point involves the activity of looking
at two people from a distance: what we perceive is an image of two individuals
that look similar in outline, but not in detail. We can see their silhouettes, but
not their faces. Because of the distance the image is blurred. If we move closer,
however, we see that the two individuals look quite dierent. Seen from close
by their faces are distinguishable: one has a big nose, the other has beady eyes.
Thus, the initially perceived vagueness is a result of our inadequate perception.
Another of Russells examples involves two glasses of water: one of these
contains pure water, while the other is infected with typhoid bacilli. Observed
with the naked eye, even from nearby, the glasses of water are indistinguishable,
but if one moves closer very much closer in fact, by using a microscope
the dierence between them becomes apparent. Thus, even from immediate
proximity, two entities may look very similar, but the vagueness is eliminated
by moving closer. Russells point, then, is clear: there is never any reason for
appealing to the notion of vagueness. It simply does not exist, so long as you
observe closely enough.
Now, what about language? Could it be the case that IG, here conceived as
grammatical vagueness, is also simply not part of the architecture of the systemof
language, but merely a property of the way that we perceive and describe it, i.e.
merely a property of our representationof the mental systemof grammar? I would
like to suggest that inmany cases the answer to this questionshould be armative.
As we have seen, some of the examples of IG that we nd in the literature can be
disproved merely by looking more closely, in a Russellian fashion.
28 Bas Aarts
In actual fact, what happens in grammar is somewhat more complex, in
that looking more closely can lead to the perception of dierence, as well as to
the perception of sameness. (As we have seen, for Russell, looking more closely
leads to the discernment of dierence.) Lets look at an example of each.
There are many examples in grammar where close scrutiny of two seeming-
ly identical elements, form classes or constructions leads to the discernment of
dierence. Consider the sentences below:
(91) She seemed to be happy.
(92) She wanted to be happy.
These sentences appear to be structurally identical in involving the pattern
NP+V+to-innitive+AP. In fact, however, as all linguists would agree, and as
any introductory textbook to grammar will relate, the similarities are only very
supercial. In (91) we have a raising construction in which the matrix verbs
subject position is dethematised, and the subject is raised from the lower clause;
in (92) want is a control verb, whose subject controls the interpretation of the
non-overt subject of the subordinate clause. By describing the two sentences in
this way their apparent identity from afar in fact turns out to be spurious. The
analysis of these two sentences in terms of raising and control is nowcommon-
place, but it is important to remember that this was not always so.
What about the converse situation? Are there cases in the grammar of
English where looking more closely leads to the perception of sameness? One
such case we came across is my discussion of Jacobssons study of adverbs,
prepositions and conjunctions. We saw that there is no case for allowing
Intersective Gradience between a prepositional and conjunctional use of
elements such as after and since, if we simply assume that they both belong to
the category preposition.
Heres a more controversial example. Consider the examples below:
(93) That house
(94) What is that?
In traditional grammar that is a determiner in (93), but a pronoun in (94). This
is despite the fact that prima facie the two words appear to be the same: they are
pronounced in the same way, and semantically they are both deictic in nature.
Descriptive grammars argue that if we inspect the syntactic behaviour of the
two italicised elements above more closely, we are led to conclude that the two
thats are grammatically quite dierent, and we should apply two dierent labels
to them. The dierence between the two elements is that in (93) that occurs
Modelling linguistic gradience 29
inside a Noun Phrase where it species the head noun house. In (94) that is a
head in its own right, i.e. it occurs independently, and is not dependent on
some other nearby element. This, then, would seem to be a straightforward
Russellian glasses-of-water-situation, as in the case of the raising and control
constructions above. But is this really so? We could also say that in this particu-
lar case the grammar is not trying to delude us, and that the thats in (93) and
(94) do not only look the same, they are in fact the same. In a 1966 article Paul
Postal argued that that in both (93) and (94) is a determiner. More recently,
Hudson (2000) has argued that these elements are both pronouns, though with
<LINK "aar-r49">
dierent subcategorisation properties: in both cases that is the head of the
phrase in which it occurs, which may, or may not, take a complement. (93)
contains a transitive pronoun, whereas in (94) the pronoun is intransitive.
Elements like the, a and every are also pronouns which obligatorily take a
nominal complement. Under such a view the class of determiners ceases to
exist. It is perhaps ironic that descriptive grammarians who advocate pervasive
gradience seem to be totally unconcerned by the fact that for such homo-
phonous elements as that, those etc. they need to posit two categories. What
they are in fact doing is making an all-or-none choice in assigning such
elements to two distinct and mutually exclusive classes. A similar situation
obtains with elements like in, on, at etc. which are analysed as adverbs by many
linguists when they are part of so-called phrasal verbs, but as prepositions when
they head P+NP sequences. Again, surely the most attractive position to take is
to say that an element like in is either always an adverb, or always a preposition.
See e.g. Aarts (1989) for discussion.
<LINK "aar-r1">
The important point illustrated by the cases discussed here is that whatever
the result, dierence or sameness, in both cases we achieve a desirable goal,
namely the elimination of vagueness.
6.3 An attempt at formalising SG and IG
Is it possible to be more precise about gradience? In this section I will make an
attempt at formalising what I perceive to be the characteristic properties of SG
and IG. The formalisations oered here should be regarded as prolegomena to
a principled theoretical account of grammatical gradience.
6.3.1 Subsective gradience
The following formalisation of SG allows for degrees of prototypicality within
grammatical categories.
30 Bas Aarts
Subsective gradience
If , , where is a form class characterised by syntactic prop-
erties {p
and is characterised by {p
}, such that 0<xn;
and is characterised by {p
}, such that 0<y<x;
then and are in a subsective gradient relationship, such that is a
more prototypical member of than .
I will take the syntactic properties of a formative to be the potential and actual
distributional characteristics it displays in a particular context. Thus, the
syntactic properties of the element design in the string the design of the house
include the fact that it is preceded by a determiner, that it is followed by a PP,
that it can be preceded by one or more modiers such as new, beautiful etc. By
contrast, in the string They intend to design new houses the lexical item design
displays quite distinct distributional properties: it is preceded by the innitival
marker to, it can be preceded by adverbs like e.g. swiftly, it is followed by a
Direct Object NP, etc. Crucially, it cannot be preceded by the or by an adjective.
Following Croft (1991: 6) we can make use of the notion of morphosyntactic test
<LINK "aar-r26">
to determine which are the syntactic properties that characterise a particular
element. For Croft a morphosyntactic test involves a grammatical construction,
one or more features of which dene or require a specic type of linguistic unit to
satisfy it or ll it. The unit can be a lexical class, a higher level constituent, a
dependency relation in sum, any element of linguistic structure. (ibid.)
Under the characterisation of SG above an adjective like thin is a more
prototypical adjective than utter, because the former conforms to more adjecti-
val properties than the latter (cf. Section 4.1). It is important to stress that I am
not claiming that there are degrees of class membership, as Zadeh has done:
utter is as much an adjective as thin is; it is merely less prototypically a member
of that class. In this context recall the Blakean dictum, cited above, A Good
Apple tree or a bad, is an Apple tree still: a Horse is not more a Lion for being
a Bad Horse.
Having said this, there are instances of SG and utter is a case in point
where an element may bear a semantic resemblance to another word class. Thus,
utter resembles adverbs in having an intensifying meaning. Similarly, phrases
may resemble other phrases semantically, as in the Leech and Li examples
discussed in Sections 5.2 and 5.4. In Section 6.3.2 below I will refer to this
property as weak convergence. Crucially, though, in the case of weak conver-
gence there are no syntactic points of overlap. The latter leads to what I will call
Modelling linguistic gradience 31
strong convergence, a case of IG. Weak convergence does not always obtain: there
are many peripheral adjectives that do not semantically resemble other word
classes (mere is an example).
In conclusion, SGcan be demonstrated on syntactic, semantic and commu-
nicative grounds, leading to a graded distinction between more or less proto-
typical members of form classes, while allowing for particular members of a
form class to converge weakly on other form classes.
6.3.2 Intersective gradience
Turning now to IG, I will attempt to model the intuition that Intersective
Gradience obtains if a particular element (morpho)syntactically partakes of two
categories to some degree.
Intersective Gradience
If , are form classes characterised by syntactic properties
} and {b
}, respectively;
and $, a grammatical formative, which conforms to a set of
syntactic properties {c
such that {c
} {a
} and {c
} {b
then and are in an intersective gradient relationship with re-
spect to , and its projection P.
The notion of intersection in the term Intersective Gradience refers to the
intersection of sets of properties, and not, crucially, to an intersection of the
categories themselves. I thus exclude the possibility of a formative in a particu-
lar conguration belonging to two form classes at the same time.
As mentioned in the preceding section, the model makes use of the notion of
convergence: just as inthe case of real worldobjects it is possible for the character-
istics of some object A to be transferred onto an object B, such that it becomes
more A-like, the same applies to the abstract entities that populate grammars.
Thus, we have seen that utter can be said to weakly converge on the adverb class in
semantically resembling adverbs. Distributionally, it indisputedly belongs to the
adjective class.
Where we have strong convergence (i.e. all the cases where x(p-x)
inthe formalisationabove) anelement also displays one or more (morpho)syntactic
properties of another class. IGmanifests itself through strong convergence.
As formulated above, the model above makes a number of claims. Firstly,
notice that there is an implicational relationship between SG and IG: with the
exception of cases of true hybridity (x=px), all cases of IG are ipso facto also
cases of SG. This is so because all the cases of elements from a category that
32 Bas Aarts
are intersectively gradient with category by denition abverge from the core
of , and are therefore not prototypical members of . This does not mean that
SG and IG need not be distinguished, because there are cases of SG where there
is no convergence on another category. Put formulaically, IG=SG+strong
convergence. Secondly, the model predicts that the syntactic properties that a
form class conforms to are unique to that class. And nally, the denition
allows an element in a particular syntactic context to display characteristics of
at most two classes. I will return to the last two points below.
Let us rst nowlook at some abstract andconcrete examples of the formalism
Consider rst an element which is characterised by seven properties
(p=7): properties 13 are associated with form class (so {c
}=3), while
properties 47 are associated with class ({c
}=4). In this case x(px)
obtains, because 3(73). So here belongs to class , and we are dealing with
a case of strong convergence ( converges on ).
In the next example, assume again that is characterised by seven proper-
ties (p=7): but this time properties 14 are associated with form class (so
}=4), while properties 57 are associated with class ({c
}=3). In
this case again x(px), because 4(74). This time belongs to class , and
again we have a case of strong convergence ( converges on ).
Finally, suppose we have a grammatical formative that can be character-
ised by eight syntactic properties (thus p=8): properties 14 are associated with
form class (so {c
}=4), while properties 58 are associated with class
}=4). In this case x=(px) holds because 4=(84), and we have a
case of true hybridity.
Lets now apply the formalism to some concrete examples. Consider
sentences (74), (75) and (77), repeated here as (95)(97):
(95) Browns deft painting of his daughter is a delight to watch.
(96) Browns deftly painting his daughter is a delight to watch.
(97) I dislike Brown painting his daughter.
In (95) painting has four nominal properties: (1) the presence of a genitival
determiner, (2) modication by an adjective, (3) the string which painting
heads is in a typical nominal position, and (4) painting takes a PP complement.
There is also one verbal property, namely the -ing ending. The nominal
properties far outweigh the verbal ones, and we can consequently say that (95)
represents a case of strong convergence, such that painting is a noun converging
on the verb class.
Modelling linguistic gradience 33
In (96) the number of nominal properties of painting is two: (1) there is a
genitival determiner, and (2) the word painting heads a phrase which is posi-
tioned in the subject slot, a typical NP position. Its verbal properties total six:
(1) painting takes a verbal ending as well as, (2) an NP object.
(3) it is preceded by an element which can modify a verbal unit, in this case a
manner adverb,
and (4) it can be preceded by the negative particle not. Finally,
voice and aspect are also relevant, as a number of linguists have noted (cf. e.g.
Chomsky 1970, Jackendo 1977: 7f., Huddleston 1984: 314, Miller 2002: 283f.),
<LINK "aar-r21"> <LINK "aar-r51"> <LINK "aar-r48"> <LINK "aar-r70">
witness that (5) we can passivise the italicised string: His daughters being deftly
painted by Brown is a delight to watch, and (6) we can add a perfective auxiliary:
Browns having dey painted his daughter was a true feat. Therefore: p=8 and
x=2. In this case x(px), because 2(82). This, then, is a case of strong
convergence, but now we classify painting in (96) as a verb approximating the
noun class, and the italicised string in (96) as a clause.
What about (97)? Here the number of nominal properties of painting is
only one: the word painting heads a phrase that is positioned in a typical
nominal position. It has the following verbal properties: (1) painting has a (non-
genitival) subject (if we replace Brown by a pronoun, it must carry objective
case); (2) it takes a verbal ending, and (3) there is an NP object. In addition,
notice that (4) painting in (97) can be preceded by deftly (a manner adverb) and
(5) by not, but not by deft (cf. *Brown deft painting his daughter). Finally, (6)
passivisation is possible: I dislike his daughter being painted by Brown, as is the
addition of a perfective auxiliary: I dislike Brown having painted his daughter.
Therefore: p=8 and x=1. Because 1(81) this is another a case of strong
convergence. We again classify painting in (97) as a verb, and the italicised
string in (97) as a clause. Clearly, painting in (97) is more to the verbal end of
the scale than (96).
One advantage of dealing with structures like those above in this way is that
we do not need to recognise a category of gerund (gerundial, gerundive,
gerundival) in addition to nouns and verbs. This is a real benet, as the label
gerund has been used in confusing ways by dierent authors. (See also Quirk
<LINK "aar-r80">
et al. 1985: 1292, fn. a, who also reject the term.) Despite the bad press it has
had, the traditional label verbal noun is useful, at least for those elements that are
predominantly nominal, like (95), while we can use the term nominal verb for
elements that are mostly verbal, such as (96) and (97). These labels have the
additional advantage that they donot addtothe inventory of existing categories.
My examples in this section have so far been only from English, but can
easily be applied to cases of mixed constructions in other languages. Thus,
34 Bas Aarts
consider the German phrases below(fromDrijkoningen 1993, cited in Bresnan
<LINK "aar-r16">
1997: 23):
(98) ein mehrere Sprachen sprechender Mann
a.nom several languages
(99) einen mehrere Sprachen sprechenden Mann
a.acc several languages
The focal element here is sprechend+er / en which has clear adjectival properties
(it occurs before a noun with which it agrees in case and number), as well as
one verbal property (it takes a direct object). This makes it a clear case of an
adjective converging on the verb class.
Lets turn now to the question whether true hybridity can obtain in in the
case of the English gerund. In other words, are there any cases where x=(px)?
A possible candidate is (76), repeated here as (100):
(100) I dislike Browns painting his daughter.
Here the element painting appears to be verbal and nominal in equal measure:
the two nominal properties are that (1) the element is preceded by a genitival
determiner, and (2) it heads a projection in a typical NP position, namely the
direct object position of the verb dislike. Its two verbal properties are (1) that it
has a verbal ending, and (2) that it takes an NP complement. So it seems that
x=(px) holds because the total number of properties is four (p=4), while
(x=2) and 2=(42). However, we must again take into account potential
properties. In this connexion, note that it is not possible to insert an adjective
before painting in (100) above (*Browns deft painting his daughter), though
inserting a manner adverb or not is ne (Browns deftly/ not painting his
daughter). Also, voice and aspect markers can be added. This tips the balance in
favour of categorising painting as a verb, despite its being preceded by a
genitival specier.
Further candidates for the status of true hybrid are the examples below
from Quirk et al. (1985: 1064):
<LINK "aar-r80">
(101) Im tired of all that feeding the animals every day.
(102) This smoking your pipe on every possible occasion will ruin your health.
Here in both cases there are two nominal properties (the italicised strings occur
in NP positions, and they take determiners) and two verbal properties (the -ing
ending and the NP object).
But notice that these examples are of doubtful
acceptability, and the reason for this may well be their categorial indeterminacy.
Modelling linguistic gradience 35
Finally, consider (103) below, from van der Wur (1993), possible at one
<LINK "aar-r99">
time in English:
(103) *The writing this book was a dicult job.
The nominal and verbal properties seem to be balanced here too: the occur-
rence of a determiner and the position of the italicised string in the sentence are
nominal properties, while the -ing ending and the NP-object are verbal properties.
However, this construction is no longer possible in PDE. Arguably this is
because it involves a true hybrid. Interestingly, notice that in these examples we
cannot tip the categorial balance either way by adding a modier before writing.
Both *the deft writing this book and *the deftly writing this book are not possible.
I have a suspicion that languages do not tolerate truly hybrid structures, i.e.
structures where there is a perfect balance between the syntactic properties of
two classes displayed by those structures. As we have just seen, this happens
when x=(px). It is not hard to see why this would be so: cases where the
categorial scales are truly balanced are presumably hard to process mentally,
and hence disfavoured by language users.
The present account of IG has anities with that of Matthews (1981: 179)
<LINK "aar-r68">
who refers to a construction like (100) as residually like an ordinary noun
phrase, with that of Huddleston (1984: 313), who speaks of a sharp distinc-
<LINK "aar-r48">
tion between verbs and nouns, and of verbal properties outweighing
nominal ones in some cases, and vice versa in others, and with that of Hudson
<LINK "aar-r49">
(1990: 45.) who explains prototype eects in terms of the Best Fit Principle
which states that An experience E is interpreted as an instance of some concept
C if more information can be inherited about E from C than from any alterna-
tive to C. This approach allows for a particular element X to be assigned to a
class Y, even if it does not display all the characteristics of that class. Thus a
three-legged cat is still a cat, though not a prototypical one. The Best Fit
Principle means that we condone a shortage of legs because of the lack of any
better match. (ibid.)
Finally, the present approach is compatible with
Andersons (1997) treatment. He assigns the categorisation {P;(N;P)} to
<LINK "aar-r2">
structures like (100). {P;(N;P)} is a mixed category with both verbal (P=verb)
and nominal properties ((N;P) =noun), where the former predominate
(1997: 85; see also Section 6.1).
As in the present account Anderson quanties
the contributions made by the verbal and nominal components of the gerund,
by making use of the gradient shown in (104), and the weightings in (105), both
repeated from Section 6.1:
36 Bas Aarts
(104) {P} {P;N} {P:N} {N;P} {N} { }
aux verb adjective noun name functor
(105) 4P::0N 3P::1N 2P::2N 1P::3N 0P::4N 0P,0N
aux verb adjective noun name functor
Finally, Millers conclusion (2002: 289) that POSS-ING strings as in (100) are
clausal, contrary to the claims of many linguists, is in harmony with the account
presented above.
6.4 Issues and consequences
The formalisation presented above raises a number of questions. I will deal with
them in the subsections below.
6.4.1 The Sorites and Aristotelian models vs. the present model:
The issue of sharp boundaries
First, how does the model of IG presented here dier from Quirk et al.s
gradient shown in (71)(84)? The crucial dierence is that the present model
imposes a strict categorial cut-o point within it, as follows:
Clines like this are common in language, and are here modelled as two categories
converging oneach other, but witha clear cut-opoint. The model presented here
predicts that IG obtains not only with respect to particular elements such as
painting, but also with respect to the projections of those elements. Thus, in the
case of I dislike Browns painting his daughter the lexical item painting is a verb
which is convergent on the class of nouns. Its projection, the string Browns
painting his daughter, is a clause, which is convergent on a Noun Phrase.
Why insist on sharp boundaries between categories, and why deny the
possibility of multiple class membership, as in the Aristotelian model? The
Modelling linguistic gradience 37
principal reason is that a certain degree of idealisation is necessary in order for
a description of a language to be possible at all, so as to make sense of the wealth
of linguistic facts that we face within particular languages and cross-linguistically.
With regard to linguistic categorisation, it methodologically makes sense to
adopt an Aristotelian model of the categories as a starting point, which is then
progressively relaxed through falsication, rather than proceeding the other way
round. In this connection note that it is impossible to prove a negative, namely
that strict boundaries do not exist. The model I have presented here denies the
existence of uid boundaries and multiple class membership, but concedes that
gradience exists: it is built into the model by making use of the notion of
convergence. By adopting sharp boundaries as well as a convergence-driven
concept of gradience the present model is a compromise between the strictly
unyielding discrete Aristotelian view of categorisation, as adopted in most
formal approaches to language, and the traditional approach to gradience which
adopts an unconstricted Sorites-style smooth cline with no clear transition-
point between the categories.
6.4.2 The syntactic properties of the categories
A number of questions arise concerning the syntactic properties that the
formalism presented in Section 6.3 makes use of. Some of these are not without
problems, and I will not pretend that I have the nal answer to all of them. The
following points need to be addressed:
How can we be sure to identify all the relevant properties, and are all the
properties equally important?
How can we know that a particular property is an independent one, and
not merely a variant of an already identied property?
Is it indeed the case that the syntactic properties that characterise a form
class are unique to that class, as was claimed above?
And is it true that an element can converge on at most one other class?
Starting with the rst of these questions, it would be quite impossible to
establish exactly which are all and only the properties that characterise particu-
lar observed elements, so as to be able to assign them to one form class or
another, not least because languages are not static entities. However, I would
contend that this is not necessary, because in line with a Popperian heuristic we
can only ever approximate a model of reality. In most cases we can be sucient-
ly condent as condent as we can be, given the accumulated knowledge of
centuries worth of work on grammar that we can identify a sucient
38 Bas Aarts
number of criterial properties pertaining to a particular element. Having said
this, it is desirable to impose some kind of bound on the properties that are to
be used. What I propose is to restrict the number of these properties in the
following ways. First, they are all strictly morphosyntactic in nature. Secondly,
as will be clear from the discussion of examples (95)(102), the only properties
referred to are those that pertain to the immediate projection in which the
element under investigation occurs. More specically, each of the properties
concerns a number of well-dened domains: the specier domain of the
element, its adjunct and complement position(s), its morphosyntactic make-up,
and the position the phrase in question occupies in the larger containing
Limiting the number of properties in this way is an improvement
on Neustupns impressionistic systemin which there is no mechanismthat can
determine that x is rather y than z or x is rather y than not-y (see Section 6.1).
Also, Neustupn cannot account in a precise way for convergence between
categories (which he calls approximation vagueness). The present proposal
straightforwardly and accurately assigns (75) (=(96)) to a position on the
gradient in (106) that converges more closely on the noun class than does (77)
(=(97)). Regarding the proposed balancing of properties Martin Haspelmath
asks (p.c.) Suppose there are two categories with 50 properties each. If an
observed item has 23 or 24 properties of one of them, does that make it so
dierent from another item that has exactly 25? I would answer yes to this
question. One or two properties can make all the dierence, as a comparison
between Browns painting of his daughter and Browns painting his daughter
makes clear: the rst of these is nominal, while the second is verbal. It is the
presence of the preposition and the possibility of inserting deft in the former
phrase, but not in the latter, that tips the balance and makes the rst string
nominal. Incidentally, the hypothetical situation Haspelmath sketches is
unlikely to occur in language, if we limit the number of properties for a given
category in the way suggested above. As to the question of the relative impor-
tance of the various properties, at present there is no way to determine whether
any of the type of criteria identied above are more weighty than others. I have
therefore opted to work with the null hypothesis that all the properties are
equal. On this issue, see Hudson (1990: 45f.).
<LINK "aar-r49">
The second question relates to the possibility that a particular property is
not an independent factor, but merely a variant of an already identied one. As
an example, lets return to the verbal properties that characterised the gerund in
Section 6.3.2. Readers will have noticed that I treated the possibility of an
element being premodied by an adverb or by the negative particle not as
Modelling linguistic gradience 39
separate verbal properties of that element. Is this correct? It has been put to me
by an anonymous referee that arguably modication by a manner adverb or
negative particle can be regarded as one and the same property, because any
element that can be modied by an adverb can also be negated. However,
because adverbial modication and negation can be instantiated on their own,
as well as conjointly, I have opted to regard them as separate properties.
Empirical decisions of this type will need to be taken in each and every case for
individual formatives if we are to have any hope of being able to determine class
membership in a principled way.
As for the third question above, I think it would be relatively un-
controversial to say that the most well-established classes, such as nouns and
verbs, do not share any distributional properties. Thus, as we have seen, only a
noun can occur in the position of X in the frame Det Adj X, and only a verb
can take a tense ending.
Now, there do exist some potential counterexamples.
Thus, it is well known that both adjectives and adverbs can be preceded by a
small group of intensifying adverbs, so that we can have e.g. very good and very
quickly. Such facts showthat the degree of convergence between any two classes
may vary, and indeed could also be taken to indicate that the classes in question
should be conated. In fact, this has been argued for adjectives and adverbs by
a number of linguists (see e.g. Lyons 1966: 219f., Radford 1988: 138f.).
<LINK "aar-r64"> <LINK "aar-r81">
Finally, the model proposed here assumes that gradients are constituted of
contiguous categories, very much la Ross (1972), with the proviso that instead
<LINK "aar-r85">
of a linear arrangement, as in (107), we should adopt a circular arrangement,
as in (108):
(107) Verb>Adjective>Noun
Noun Adjective
Such an arrangement would be warranted by the facts discussed in Section 6.3,
which support a view of grammar where nouns and verbs converge. Verbs and
adjectives converge in cases where -ing forms precede nouns, as in e.g. the
singing detective, and adjectives and nouns also converge, namely in prenominal
positions. I cannot think of any cases where an element converges on more than
one class, by showing characteristics of more than two classes. Were such cases
to be found, the model presented here would require modication. In Aarts
(forthcoming) I will argue that Rosss model needs to be amended.
40 Bas Aarts
7. Conclusion
This article grew out of a feeling of discomfort both with uncompromising,
strictly Aristotelian, approaches to categorisation as well as with frameworks
that put few or no bounds on fuzziness in grammar. I have argued that there are
two types of gradience: Subsective Gradience and Intersective Gradience. SG is
intra-categorial in nature, and allows for prototypes, i.e. for members of a class
to display the properties of that class to varying degrees. IGis an inter-categorial
phenomenon which is characterised by two form classes converging on each
other. I have attempted to be more precise about the exact character of SG and
IG, as well as the notion of convergence, by proposing intuitively simple and
precise formalisations which make use of sets of morphosyntactic criteria. The
intuition behind my proposals is that a particular formative may possess
properties of one or two categories to dierent degrees, resulting in gradience,
but the categories in question can nevertheless be clearly delimited. IG is
arguably far less widespread than is often claimed because many perceived cases
are the fall-out of the less than optimal way grammarians have set up their
categorial taxonomies.
*Im very grateful to Flor Aarts, Valerie Adams, Nol Burton-Roberts, Bernard Comrie,
<DEST "aar-n*">
Martin Haspelmath, Dick Hudson, Evelien Keizer, Terttu Nevailanen, Carita Paradis,
Gergana Popova, Mariangela Spinillo, John Taylor and Wim van der Wur for their
comments on an earlier version of this article. Imalso beholden to two anonymous referees,
one of whom read the paper twice with great assiduity, resulting in tremendously useful and
constructive suggestions. Finally, Id like to express my thanks to David Denison, with whom
Im working on a project on gradience, for useful comments and for many fruitful discus-
sions. Some of the material in this paper was presented at the conference Linguistics and the
English Language at the University of Toulouse le Mirail in July 2000, as well as at the
Universities of Zurich, Santiago de Compostela, Banja Luka, Lancaster and Bonn. Im
grateful to the audiences for useful comments, especially Ronald Langacker, Paul Rowlett,
Georey Leech and Mick Short.
1. For other versions of the Sorites Paradox see Chatterjee (1994: 153f.) and Williamson 1994.
<LINK "aar-r20"> <LINK "aar-r96">
2. It will only be possible to discuss a few cases of SG and IG here. For a more detailed and
comprehensive study, see Aarts (forthcoming). Whats more, I will only be discussing
syntactic gradience in what can be called the primary categories of language, such as word
classes and their projections. I will not discuss gradience within, or between, secondary
categories, such as grammatical functions or semantic categories. (There is a large literature
Modelling linguistic gradience 41
on this; see e.g. Hopper and Thompson 1980 on degrees of transitivity.) Morphology will
<LINK "aar-r47">
also fall outside the scope of this paper (see e.g. Bybee and Moder 1983).
<LINK "aar-r19">
3. Note that the syntactic criteria given here are the ones traditionally adduced. They do not
distinguish between word classes and their phrasal projections. Thus, ability to act as
subject, is strictly speaking a property of Noun Phrases, not nouns, at least in constituency-
based syntactic frameworks.
4. Cited in Fodor (1998: 88).
<LINK "aar-r36">
5. The term is borrowed from A. A. Hill. Bolinger also uses the term prepositional adverb for
elements that are adverbs in phrasal verbs (look up the number), but prepositions elsewhere
(look up that tree).
6. Kortmann (1997: 26f.) notes that the idea of transitive and intransitive prepositions
<LINK "aar-r59">
actually goes back much further than the often cited work of Emonds, namely at least to
Jespersen (1924: 8889).
<LINK "aar-r54">
7. An anonymous referee feels that my criticism of Jacobsson is unfair. S/he asks Why is this
only a dierence that can be ignored? Why isnt it sucient to distinguish between the
Categories? [T]here is no a priori justication for either lumping or splitting. The reason
why the dierent grammatical distribution of before and since should not lead to splitting is
that it can be explained by making reference to the complement-taking properties of these
elements. These properties create subcategories within form classes (e.g. transitive verb,
intransitive verb), hence subcategorisation, but not new form classes. The phenomenon is
quite pervasive in grammar. We wouldnt want to say that believe in I believed the story and
believe in I believe that he is right belong to dierent word classes. In general the strongest
argument in favour of conating categories is that wielding Occams razor leads to a more
streamlined (and hence more learnable) grammar. In the example under discussion the case
for lumping is a persuasive one, as it results in particular elements (before and since) being
assigned to only one form class, rather than to three. On the grounds of elegance and
categorial parsimony this is surely preferable to splitting. See Croft (2001: 65.) for a critique
<LINK "aar-r26">
of linguists use of distributional evidence, specically the lumping approach.
8. Quirk claims that N and him in this frame are coreferential. This is not really correct as
N is a property which is predicated of the person referred to by the pronoun him.
9. The such that-clause should perhaps read as follows:
} {a
} and {c
} {b
} or
} {a
} and {c
} {b
} or
} {a
} and {c
} {b
This is because the formalisation in the text does not allow for a formative to possess all the
properties a
, or all the properties b
, as an anonymous reader notes. The following
situation is excluded, for obvious reasons:
} {a
} and {c
} {b
10. The qualication in a particular conguration is important here. As we will see below,
the word painting can be analysed either as a verb or as a noun, depending on the syntactic
42 Bas Aarts
company it keeps, though there is nothing to stop us from saying that the word in isolation
belongs to two classes. But then, words in isolation are often not classiable.
11. For example, in an utter fool the fact that utter occurs in attributive position is a sucient
reason for assigning this word to the class of adjectives. Although nouns can also occur pre-
nominally, utter cannot be regarded as a noun, because we would then expect it also to be
possible for it to be positioned in the position of X in the frame Det Adj X. Clearly utter
cannot be regarded as an adverb either because we also have utterly.
12. And note that further complements are possible: Browns painting me a picture.
13. Other types of adverbial modication are also possible, e.g. by because-clauses and result
clauses, as Jackendo (1977: 222) has observed.
<LINK "aar-r51">
14. Huddleston (1984: 313) objects to the term verbal noun as a label for all gerunds,
<LINK "aar-r48">
because it gives greater weight to the nominal properties of a particular element, than to the
verbal properties. I agree, but given Huddlestons own views (see below) he could have
adopted the same strategy as is proposed here: use verbal noun for (96) and nominal verb
for (96) and (97).
15. The occurrence of the adjuncts every day and on every possible occasion is inconclusive, as
they can occur in clauses as well as NPs (cf. Meat every day/ on every possible occasion is not
good for you.).
16. Wimvan der Wur (1993, 1997) has argued that there have been forces in English which
<LINK "aar-r99">
have pushed the English gerund either to the nominal end of the spectrum, or to the verbal
end from 1900 onwards. See also Denison (1998: 268.) and Fanego (1998) on the verbal-
<LINK "aar-r31"> <LINK "aar-r35">
ization of the early Modern English gerund. Fanego notes that eModE gerunds exhibit a
much greater degree of hybridization and structural instability than their Present-day English
counterparts (ibid.: 109).
17. See also Putnam (1975: 251) on stereotypes: The fact that a feature (e.g. stripes) is
<LINK "aar-r79">
included in the stereotype associated with a word Xdoes not mean that it is an analytic truth
that all Xs have that feature, nor that most Xs have that feature, nor that all normal Xs have
that feature, nor that some Xs have that feature. Three-legged tigers and albino tigers are not
logically contradictory entities.
18. Strictly speaking the gerund ought presumably to be characterised as {(P;N);(N;P)}, but
Anderson generally uses just {P} for verb.
19. Following a useful suggestion made in Haspelmath (1996) we can distinguish an
<LINK "aar-r44">
elements internal syntax, e.g. the possibility of it taking certain dependents (which would
include its morphosyntactic shape), from its external syntax, e.g. the possibility of it
occurring in a particular (argument) position.
An anonymous referee suggests that notions like specier domain adjunct position(s)
and complement position(s) are theory-laden, but I feel this criticismis not justied, as they
can easily be translated into the terminology of other frameworks. Thus all of the terms above
can be subsumed under the neutral headings pre-head dependents and post-head dependents.
20. An anonymous referee observes that with regard to the adjectival properties shown in
Section 4.1, I must be taking the possibility of an element occurring in attributive position as
a sucient (i.e. criterial) property of adjectivehood, and that therefore the four properties do
Modelling linguistic gradience 43
not have equal status. S/he then asks: Would a word that cannot be a prenominal modier
but has one or more of the other three properties be more of an adjective than utter? I
suspect not. The answer is that such words do exist, examples being adjectives that can only
occur predicatively, including many of those beginning in a- in English, e.g. the man is
afraid/ *the afraid man. I would regard afraid as a less typical adjective than thin, but as a
more typical adjective than utter.
21. Notice that I am not saying that these classes cannot converge upon each other. Im
merely saying that the property of taking morphological tense markers, for example, is a
uniquely verbal property that does not apply to nouns.
22. I have left participles and prepositions out of the squish presented by Ross. Ross
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Authors address
Bas Aarts
Dept. of English Language & Literature
University College London
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
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