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Thesis - Campus Access Only
Master of Arts (MA)
Linguistics and Language Development
Adjectives, Corpus Linguistics, Gradability
This study explored the phenomenon of grading non-gradable adjectives from semantic and historical perspectives by examining the history of unique. The apparent clash that arises between unique's generally accepted definition of "one of a kind" and its actual usage with adverbs like somewhat and very is polysemy in which unique has two definitions - the non-gradable "one of a kind" and the gradable "uncommon." Using three corpora of American English for a total of almost one billion words spanning two centuries, I found that grading unique has become less frequent over the past hundred years. Contrary to prescriptivist assumptions, the non-gradable sense of unique is gaining popularity, not losing it. Grading patterns compared among six additional adjectives - three gradable and three non-gradable - revealed that grading adverbs collocate more with gradable adjectives than with non-gradable ones, while epistemic adverbs collocate more with non-gradable adjectives than with gradable ones. Gradability was also shown to be gradable, i.e., some adjectives are more gradable than others, and each adjective has its own story.
Panfili, Laura Maggia, "Grading Non-Gradable Adjectives: A "Totally Unique" Corpus Study" (2013). Master's Theses. 4305.