A new metalinguistic degree morpheme

Ryan Bochnak, Eva Csipak


In this paper, we discuss and analyze ...ish/-ish in three of its uses: as a modifier of gradable adjectives; as a clause-final particle that hedges on a speaker’s degree of commitment to a proposition; and as a general precision-regulator. In each case, -ish/. . . ish makes reference to a degree that is slightly less than the standard for the constituent it applies to. We propose that proposition-modifying . . . ish belongs to the class of metalinguistic degree morphology alongside metalinguistic comparisons, which have received recent attention in the literature (e.g., Giannakidou & Yoon 2011; Morzycki 2011). We argue for a unified analysis of ...ish/-ish as a degree modifier, where the relevant degree variable can be provided lexically, or through a type-shifting operation that makes available a degree of precision in the sense of Morzycki (2011). This study has implications for research on the semantics of metalinguistic degree morphology, imprecision, speaker-oriented phenomena, and the role of subjectification in semantic change. 

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/salt.v24i0.2450