LINGUIST List 5.530

Mon 09 May 1994

Sum: Equative comparison

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  1. Martin Haspelmath, Sum: equative comparison

Message 1: Sum: equative comparison

Date: Fri, 6 May 1994 22:50:49 +Sum: equative comparison
From: Martin Haspelmath <>
Subject: Sum: equative comparison

Summary: equative comparison

Thanks to those of you who reacted to my query on equative comparison ("as
good as X"). I didn't get very many reactions, which seems to show that
equatives are not currently a hot topic of research. Still, below I list
the references that I got plus some others that we found ourselves.

 Larry Horn and Geoffrey Simmons sent comments on the semantics of
equatives (equatives as scalar values: are they upward-entailing/monotone
increasing or non-monotone or ambiguous? is the construction
semantically compositional?)

 However, we are more interested in the morphosyntax of equatives, as
well as in polysemy patters (i.e. we are interested in the semantics
mainly to the extent that it is reflected in linguistic form).
 John Koontz points out that structures like 'so...wie' in German or
'tak...kak' in Russian show a close connection with correlative relative
clauses. Thus, the fact that (at least in Europe) equatives are often
marked by 'how' words which also function as interrogatives is due to the
generally extensive use that European languages make of interrogative
pronouns in relative clauses. Since wh-marked relative clauses seem to be
a highly specific areal feature of Europe, we should also expect 'how'
equatives to be restricted to Europe (is this true?).

 John Cowan doubts that there is a relation between the 'as' in 'We gave
it it to you as a gift' and the 'as' in 'as good as X': "There are about
six or seven different "as"es, of which "" is just one." Here Cowan
is clearly wrong--on the basis of English alone, one might think of
accidental homonymy, but the same polysemy pattern is found in quite a few
other languages, e.g. Russian, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Catalan, Dutch,
Georgian. This clearly cannot be accidental, and there must be some
explanation for it.

 Matthew Dryer points out that Quebec Inuktitut uses the same
morphosyntactic means for expressing equative comparison and for (what we
call) similative expressions like 'She is like a man'. This
equative/similative polyfunctionality is widespread elsewhere (e.g. in
German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Norwegian), and again it needs to
be explained somehow.

REFERENCES on Equative Comparison

Alvre, P. Ju. 1987. "O sinteticheskom ekvative." Voprosy jazykoznanija
1987.4: 132-137.

Bierwisch, Manfred. 1989. "The semnatics of gradation." In: Bierwisch,
Manfred & Lang, Ewald (eds.) Dimensional adjectives. Berlin: Springer, 71-261.

Borsley, Robert D. 1981. "Wh-movement and unbounded deletion in Polish
equatives." Journal of Linguistics 17.2:271-288.

Buchholz, Oda. 1989. "Zu aequativischen Konstruktionen in den
Balkansprachen." Linguistische Studien A, 192:1-45 (Berlin, Akademie der

Cheremisina, Majja I. 1976. Sravnitel'nye konstrukcii russkogo jazyka.
Novosibirsk: Nauka.

Horn, Laurence R. 1989. A natural history of negation. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press.

Rivara, Rene. 1990. Le systeme de la comparaison: sur la construction du
sens dans les langues naturelles. Paris: Minuit.

Rudin, Catherine. 1984. "Comparatives and equatives in Bulgarian and the
Balkan languages." In: Shangriladze, K.K. & Townsend, E.W. (eds.) Papers
for the Vth Congress of Southeast European Studies, Belgrade, September
1984. Columbus: Slavica.

von Stechow, Arnim. 1984. "Comparing semantic theories of comparison."
Journal of Semantics 3.1-2:1-78.

Thanks to:

Hartmut Haberland (hartmut
John Cowan (
John Koontz (
Matthew Dryer (
Larry Horn (
Geoffrey Simmons (

Martin Haspelmath,
Department of English,
Free University of Berlin
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