Monday, June 9th @ 3:00 PM, Cobb 104
From semantic to social meaning. The case study of intensifiers.
The phenomenon of intensification is pervasive in natural language. Examples of such expressions, in English, include very, really, so, extremely. Linguists have addressed intensification with respect to two specific areas: intensifiers’ semantics, and intensifiers’ usage in the social landscape. Yet, an actual integration between these two approaches is currently missing. Exploring this relationship
represents the main goal of this talk.
The presence of a principled connection between semantic and sociolinguistic facts stems from the following observation. While the use of an intensifier with a gradable predicate comes across as fairly neutral (in (1)), the occurrences in (2) normally index a richer constellation of indexical information. First, these expressions are intuitively labeled as informal, colloquial, fit for spoken registers. Moreover, they normally suggest an association with readily identifiable and specific social and psychological traits, or even full-fledged social types (“Valley girl”, “Generation X”, and others)
(1a) The tank is totally full (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of fullness)
(1b) The house is very big (Gradable. Source of the scale: scale of size)
(1c) The building is so tall that planes almost touch it (Gradable. Source: scale of height)
(2a) Your attitude is very UChicago. (Non-gradable. Source: stereotypical traits of Uchicago)
(2b) I totally left this at home (Non-gradable. Source: certainty about the proposition)
(2c) I’m so next in line! (Non-gradable. Source: eagerness/enthusiasm about being next)
My leading hypothesis is that speakers, when making use of intensifiers, are exploiting the semantic notion of gradability as a stylistic resource to construct social meaning and social evaluations. In particular, I suggest that intensifiers that semantically target non-lexical scales create a marked linguistic environment, which emerges as a suitable attachment site for social meaning and the related social evaluations.