Title: From determining quantity to modifying quantity and quality: The paths of change of 'whole' and 'very'
Authors: Ghesquière, Lobke
Davidse, Kristin
Njende, Ngum Meyuhnsi
Breban, Tine
Issue Date: 19-Sep-2016
Conference: International Society for the Linguistics of English edition:4 location:Poznan, Poland date:18-21 September 2016
Abstract: From determining quantity to modifying quantity and quality:
The paths of change of whole and very
In studies of the emergence of intensifying meanings, the path from descriptive modification
to degree modification has long been the main one investigated (e.g. Allerton 1978, Peters
1994, Lorenz 2002, Nevalainen & Rissanen 2002, Anonymized & Author 2 2008, Beltrama
2013). A few recent studies (a.o. Author 1 2009, Author 2 2009, Author 1 & Anonymized
2011) have pointed out the importance of the hitherto neglected path from identification to
intensification identified by Bolinger (1972), which we take to include the equally neglected
sub-trajectory from quantity modification to (qualitative) degree modification. In the case of
quantity modification, the extent of a notion of size or quantity conveyed by the head nouns
and/or modifiers in a noun phrase is modified (e.g. Such lies! ‘so many lies’). With qualitative
degree modification, evaluative notions, as expressed by evaluative or emotive head nouns
and/or adjectives are intensified (e.g. Such lies! ‘lies so outrageous’) (cf. Rett 2008 on
gradable vs. amount readings of what).
In this paper, we will reconstruct in detail the diachronic paths followed by whole and
good, which, preliminary study suggests, followed some of these largely overlooked
(sub)trajectories from quantity identification to quantity modification to quality modification.
A central factor in these changes is formed, we argue, by the conceptual analogies between
the degree modification of bounded vs. unbounded qualities (Paradis 2000, 2001, Kennedy &
McNally 2005) and the quantity modification of relative vs. absolute quantity (Milsark 1976,
Langacker 1991), which are also important in their own right for semantic theory.
For whole, Author 1 & 2 (2011) outlined the following trajectory1: quantifying
secondary determiner uses of whole, e.g. se ʒehalne hlaf 'the whole loaf’ (c.900), led to the
‘intensification’ of, in this order, relative quantity, e.g. al his hole meyne ‘his whole main’
(1375), gradable concepts, hoole his herte ‘his whole commitment’ (1425), and absolute
quantity, e.g. whole trains of years (1843). In this paper, we will reconstruct this path in finer
detail. The source construction the whole + noun engages in relative quantification, as it
compares the mass or set it actually predicates with a reference mass and indicates full
coincidence (Langacker 1991). The redundancy of whole in this expression entails an
emphatic meaning component, which may have been activated by the intensifying cluster all
… whole (Author 1 2014). We further characterize the emphasizing of coincidence with the
reference mass as ‘maximizing’ and the upscaling of scalar absolute quantity as ‘boosting’,
extending Quirk et al.’s (1985) classes of degree modification to quantity modification
(Author 3, Author 2 & Author 1 2015) The syntactic and collocational extension of whole to
cardinal numbers in both indefinite, e.g. Two dawes hole (1380), and definite NPs, e.g. þe
þreo hole (c1385) will also be factored into the reconstruction.
Preliminary study suggests similar trajectories for good, which in the immediate source
constructions of the intensified uses conveys scalar, absolute quantity rather than maximal,
relative quantity. The general meaning of good attested since c.800, “the existence in a high,
or at least satisfactory, degree of characteristic qualities” (OED, s.v. good, A. adj), quickly led
to boosting uses with nouns implying size dimensions, paraphrasable as “considerable, rather,
great” (OED, good, A. adj 19a), e.g. god dæl ‘a good deal’ (a 1000), gode hwile ‘a good
while’(a 1000). This boosting meaning gradually extended to more qualitative notions, e.g.
with wel god pas ‘at a good pace’ (1300). From c1300 on, good started intensifying adjectives
such as pretty/long/strong/sharp/large, with pretty good developing as a lexicalized cluster
All cited examples in this abstract are from the Oxford English Dictionary.
conveying quality intensification in its own right (Gonzalez-Diaz 2015). Finally, good also
extended to cardinal numbers, e.g. a good two miles (1577).
The data looked at for this paper are taken from a selection of historical corpora,
including the PPCME and PPCEME corpora and the CLMET3.0 corpus. Synchronic data will
be extracted from the WordbanksOnline corpus. The data samples will be analyzed both
qualitatively and quantitatively, taking into account frequencies, syntactic features, semanticpragmatic
changes and changes in collocational co-occurrence patterns. The forms’ semantic
and structural diversifications and developments will be described and interpreted in the light
of grammaticalization and (inter)subjectification theories.
Allerton, D.J. 1987. English intensifiers and their idiosyncrasies. In R. Steele & T. Treadgold
(eds.). Language Topics: Essays in honour of Michael Halliday. Amsterdam:
Benjamins. 15–31.
Beltrama, A. 2013. From tall-issimo to game-issimo: Intensification in diachrony. Paper
presented at Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, 3-6 January 2013,
Boston, Massachusetts.
Bolinger, D. 1972. Degree words. The Hague: Mouton.
Kennedy, C. & L. McNally. 2005. Scale structure, degree modification, and the semantics of
gradable predicates. Language 81 (2). 345–381.
Gonzalez-Diaz, V. 2015. Adjective units in the English NP string: a diachronic case-study.
Paper presented at FunC meeting, 13 March 2015, University of Leuven.
Langacker, R.W. 1991. Foundations of Cognitive Grammar: Volume II: Descriptive
Application. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Lorenz, G. 2002. Really worthwhile or not really significant? In I. Wischer & G. Diewald
(eds.), New Reflections on Grammaticalization, 143–161. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Milsark, G. 1976. Existential sentences in English. Bloomington: Indiana University.
Linguistics Club.
Nevalainen, T & M. Rissanen. 2002. Fairly pretty or pretty fair?: On the development and
grammaticalization of English downtoners. Language Sciences 24: 359–380.
Paradis, C. 2000. Reinforcing adjectives: A cognitive semantic perspective on
grammaticalization. In R. Bermudez-Otero et al. (eds.), Generative theory and corpus
studies: a dialogue from 10 ICEHL, 233–258. Berlin: Mouton.
Peters, H. 1994. Degree adverbs in Early Modern English. In D. Kastovsky (ed.), Studies in
Early Modern English, 269–288. Berlin: Mouton.
Quirk, R.; S. Greenbaum, G. Leech & J. Svartvik. 1985. A Grammar of Contemporary
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Rett. 2008. A degree account of exclamatives. In M. Gibson & T. Friedman (eds.).
Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistics Theory XVIII. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC), Leuven

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