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Lexical Illusions, (Non-)Maximality, and Invisible Gaps

University of Sheffield, 2020.



The first part of this work (Chapters I, II and III) is aimed at testing the lexical modulation hypothesis, which has it that word meanings can be adjusted, either narrowed or broadened, during the process of semantic composition in response to pragmatic pressures. I examine many of the examples that have been given in support of this hypothesis and, through the application of linguistic tests, try to determine whether these examples can, as a matter of fact, be taken as evidence that something like modulation is operative in natural language. The examination of the data will lead me to the conclusion that the lexical modulation hypothesis is likely to be false. The second part of this work (Chapters IV, V, and VI) is concerned with the phenomenon of (im)precision, which many have analysed as an instance of lexical modulation. I develop a formal account of (im)precise interpretation, which builds upon Križ's (2015) seminal work on (non-)maximality. Furthermore, I show how homogeneity, (arguably) a semantic pre-requisite for (im)precise interpretation, is implicated in constructions that are not obviously homogenous, such as absolute adjectives.

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