Scale structures in discourse: Discourse-pragmatic properties of Japanese comparative expressions

Osamu Sawada


The Japanese sore-yori ‘lit. than it’ and nani-yori ‘lit. than what’ have a pragmatic use (in addition to semantic use), and their pragmatic functions are highly discourse-sensitive. In terms of scalarity, the pragmatic sore-yori is non-endpoint-oriented in that it conventionally implicates that U in sore-yori(U) is preferable to the previous utterance. In contrast, the pragmatic nani-yori is endpoint-oriented in that it conventionally implicates that U in nani-yori(U) is preferable to any alternative utterance. In this paper I argue (i) that these two types of scalar meanings at the level of conventional implicaure (CI) are derived compositionally by the single yori ‘than’, and (ii) that various kinds of discourse-pragmatic functions of sore-yori and nani-yori―such as “topic shifting” in sore-yori, and “priority listing” and “additive reinforcing” in nani-yori―automatically arise from the interaction between the expression’s scale structures (endpoint vs. non-endpoint scales) and Grice’s conversational maxims (relevance, manner). This paper shows that scale structures play a crucial role in managing the direction of discourse and that there is a rich interaction between CIs and general conversational maxims in pragmatic comparative expressions.


scale structures; endpoint vs. non-end point scales; discourse; pragmatic comparative expressions; conventional implicatures; Gricean maxims

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