LINGUIST List 5.1256

Tue 08 Nov 1994

Sum: Size Adjectives and Qualifiers

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Date: Tue, 08 Nov 94 17:02:12 SSSUM: SIZE ADJS AND QUANTIFIERS
From: David Gil <ELLGILDNUSVM.bitnet>

About a month ago, I posted the following query:

 I'm looking for examples, from any language, of
 quantifiers that are formally related to size adjectives.

 So far, I am familiar with the following three examples:

 little > a little

 nohy5 > nohy5 neu:ng2
 little little one
 "little" "a little"

 ketek > saketek
 little one-little
 "little" "a little"

 Is anybody familiar with more such examples?

 In spite of the typological and geographical diversity of
 these three languages, the above constructions are
 strikingly similar. This raises the following further

 (1) are there any analogous examples where "many" is
 derived from "big"?

 (2) are there any examples where the derivation is in the
 other direction, ie. where a size adjective, eg.
 "little" is derived from a quantifier, eg. "a few"?


The above query triggered numerous interesting responses,
for which I am grateful to the following residents of the
global virtual village:

Robert Beard, Steven Berbeco, Jonathan David Bobaljik, John
Cowan, Jane Edwards, F. Gladney, Arthur Holmer, Knut
Lambrecht, Pierre Larrivee, Ann Lindvall, Edith Moravcsik,
Geoffrey S. Nathan, Chris Pountain, Ines Shaw, Nancy
Stenson, Frits Stuurman, Cynthia Vakareliyska, 0ystein
Alexander Vangsnes, Peansiri Vongvipanond, and a person who
wished to remain anonymous.

In a nutshell, all of the responses but one provided data
from European languages. I do not know enough to say
whether this areal patterning is of the phenomenon in
question, or rather of the respondents to the query, and
the languages that they are familiar with. However, the
data suggested that formal relationships between
quantifiers and size adjectives are indeed widespread, and
provided an affirmative answer to the first specific query,
with examples of the derivation of "many" from "big". In
what follows, I provide a selection of typical responses
(if anybody wants the responses in their entirety, they can
contact me directly).

Some more examples of "little" > "a little":

liten > lite
"little" "a little"

beag > beaga'n
"little" "a little"

petit > un petit
"little" "a little"

mal/malo/mala > malo
"little" "a little"
(short predicate forms)

maly > malo
"little" "a little"

maluk/malko/malka > malko
"little" "a little"

Some respondents offered interesting diachronic comments:

"[T]he Latin adjectives for 'little', PARVUS and PAULUS,
were replaced by what is often seen as an 'onomatopoeic'
creation (*PITTINNUS for Spanish). The adverb PARUM, which
is morphologically related to PARVUS is replaced by a form
*PAUCU, which existed in Classical Latin only in the plural
(PAUCI) with the meaning '(a) few'. In the medieval
Romance languages, Old Spanish _poco_, Old Catalan _poc_
and Old Occitan _pauc_ are however attested in the meaning
of 'little'."
[Chris Pountain]

"[T]he Latin root is from IE *pou/pau, which gives English
few, foal, as well as Latin (and English) pauper, poverty,
not to mention Greek paed `child' (paediatrician etc.) So
all the `small' and `few' meanings are intermingled
throughout all the IE etyma."
[Geoffrey S. Nathan]

And now, in response to question (1), some examples of
"big" > "many":

Quebec French:
gros > gros gros
"big" "a lot"

mo'r > mo'ra'n
"big" "a lot"
 (negative polarity)

duzy > duzo
"big" "a lot"

And a general diachronic comment:

"Slavic _comparative_ quantifier "more" has the same root
(bol-) as adj "big" (Old Church Slavonic bolii, modern
Russian bol'shoj). "Many/much" is mnogo/mnogi in the Slavic
languages, root *minog- (short i) -- there's no
etymologically related adj meaning "big". (The root in the
comparative shows up as *bolj- in the comparative
quantifier and adjs, but I am assuming the j is a suffix
[...]. I think Russian is the only modern language where
this root still shows up in the adj. "big", though all of
them except modern Bulgarian (and probably Macedonian)
still have the comparative quantifier in bol. Vasmer's
Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language relates the
root to Sanskrit baliyan (acute accent on first a, long
mark over i and second a), "stronger", balisthas (acute
over first a, dot under first s and t), "strongest",
"balam" (acute over first a) "strength". Russian has two
different comparative forms with this root in addition to
the adj "big" (bol'shoj): comparative quantifier bol'she
(as in "more money") and adverb bolee (as in "more
[Cynthia Vakareliyska]

As for question (2), pertaining to derivations in the
opposite direction (from quantifier to size adjective),
here the evidence is still less clear. One respondent [Ann
Lindvall] suggested some possible examples from Swedish and
Greek. In fact, in the above Slavic examples, the
directionality is not immediately clear, and may perhaps be
most appropriately characterized as a nondirectional
identity of (neuter-form) adjective and quantifier.
However, I still haven't encountered any uncontroversial
examples of size adjectives that are derived from

Finally, two interesting comments on related phenomena:

'a little' or 'somewhat' (such as in "She is a little
late." or "A somewhat over-ripe pear was lying on the
_kicsit_, which consists of _kicsi_ (predicative form of
the the adjective for 'small') plus _t_, the accusative
'very', 'extremely' (such as in the above sentences, with
"little"/"somewhat" replaced with "very"/"extremely"):
_nagyon_, which consists of _nagy_ 'big' and _on_, a de-
adjectival adverbializer.
These are ad-verbal and ad-adjectival quantifiers.
Adnominal quantifiers such as 'many' and 'few' do not have
to do with size adjectives."
[Edith Moravcsik]

"I suspect that the Thai and Lao adverb (?) nak " great
deal, a lot" and the adjective nak "heavy" are derivatives
of one another (Strange ?) through grammaticalization.
This verbal quantifier is more prevalent in Lao, Lanna Thai
dialect and Isan dialect (all geographically and
historically related) than in Bangkok Thai."
[Peansiri Vongvipanond]
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