Incremental pragmatic interpretation of gradable adjectives: The role of standards of comparison


  • Stavroula Alexandropoulou University of Potsdam Osnabrück University
  • Marisha Herb University of Potsdam
  • Henrik Discher Humboldt University of Berlin
  • Nicole Gotzner Osnabrück University, University of Potsdam



While for relative gradable adjectives the value on the underlying measurement scale that serves as a standard of comparison is contextually determined, for absolute gradable adjectives this is typically taken to be a fixed, context-invariant value (Rotstein & Winter 2004; Kennedy & McNally 2005). The present study investigates how lexical-semantic factors, such as the type of standard of comparison invoked by gradable adjectives, affect the incremental computation of scalar implicatures triggered by such adjectives. Our study shows that the incremental computation of scalar implicatures is facilitated by the immediate visual context but only for relative adjectives. Minimum standard absolute adjectives, which impose a lower bound on their corresponding measurement scales, robustly trigger upper-bounded interpretations independently of the availability of contrastive visual information. Our findings indicate that different kinds of scalar meaning are computed incrementally and potentially in parallel. Overall, these findings shed new light on theories of scalar implicatures and highlight the need for a model of adjective meaning that incorporates semantic and pragmatic factors (see also Gotzner 2021; and for related ideas in the domain of quantifiers see Franke & Bergen 2020 and Cremers, Wilcox & Spector 2022, and Magri (2017) for Hirschberg scales).