Publication Date

Summer 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Linguistics and Language Development


Soteria Svorou


Adjectives, Corpus analysis, Cross-linguistic analysis, Japanese, Swahili, Tough movement

Subject Areas



Words that denote the degree of effort required for some activity, called easy adjectives here, have distinctive behavior. This behavior is explored in six languages to determine how the semantics of these words is reflected in the expressions to which they can apply, the constructions in which they appear, and their use in discourse. For four Indo-European languages, English, Spanish, German, and Russian, the analysis is based on random samples from linguistic corpora. For two non-Indo-European languages, Japanese and Swahili, the analysis is based on consultant elicitations and published examples. The analysis confirms that easy adjectives have distinctive behavior compared to prototypical adjectives that describe properties of things. In every language studied, easy adjectives (such as English easy, difficult, and hard) apply exclusively to: finite and non-finite clauses; Noun Phrases (NPs) that denote activities, including de-verbal nominalizations; NPs that act as metonymies for activities due to frame-semantic associations; NPs that appear in constructions along with an explicitly stated activity; and pro-forms with non-specific antecedents. Details are given of the specific constructions employed in these patterns, showing how a variety of syntactic means are employed in different languages to achieve the same functions. Corpus data for the four Indo-European languages are used to show how the behavior of evaluation adjectives (those that describe the value, cost, or benefit of an activity) differs from that of easy adjectives despite some similarities that have been the focus of prior literature.