Re-conceptualizing scale boundaries : the case of Dutch **helemaal**
Faculty of Arts. Linguistics and Literature
Journal of pragmatics: an interdisciplinary quarterly of language studies. - Amsterdam
, p. 2043-2056
University of Antwerp
Maximizers adverbs denoting a maximum degree of a property (e.g. completely) are often re-conceptualized as boosters denoting a high degree (cf. very). As a result, these degree adverbs come to modify unbounded adjectives which are not compatible with the idea of a maximum value. Although this kind of meaning change proved cross-linguistically robust, the exact mechanisms of this process have never been investigated. The present paper aims to shed more light onto semantic and contextual factors facilitating combinations of open-scale (unbounded) adjectives with closed-scale (bounded) adverbs by analyzing the distribution of the Dutch maximizer helemaal in the Corpus of Spoken Dutch. Following the boundedness hypothesis, we hypothesized that configurational harmony destroyed by combinations of the maximizer helemaal with unbounded adjectives can be restored by either imposing scale boundaries onto, by default, unbounded adjectival scales, or by re-conceptualizing the degree adverb as an unbounded modifier. Both predictions were confirmed by the data in this study. The findings suggest that there is no one-to-one relationship between semantic classes of adjectives and scalar structures associated with them. Rather, scalar meanings are a matter of dynamic construal constrained by semantic properties of adjectives and degree modifiers, as well as by context and world knowledge.