Quantity superlatives in Germanic, or, ‘Life on the fault line between adjective and determiner'
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Citation (published version)E Coppock. "Quantity Superlatives in Germanic, or ‘Life on the fault line between adjective and determiner." Journal of Germanic Linguistics,
This paper concerns the superlative forms of the words many, much, few, and little, and their equivalents in other Germanic languages (German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dalecarlian, Icelandic, and Faroese). It demonstrates that every possible relationship between definiteness and interpretation is attested. It also demonstrates that agreement mismatches are found with relative readings and with proportional readings, but different kinds of agreement mismatches in each case. One consistent pattern is that a quantity superlative with adverbial morphology and neuter singular agreement features is used with relative superlatives. On the other hand, quantity superlatives with proportional readings always agree in number. I conclude that quantity superlatives are not structurally analogous to quality superlatives on either relative or proportional readings, but they depart from a plain attributive structure in different ways. On relative readings they can be akin to pseudopartitives (as in a cup of tea), while proportional readings are more closely related to partitives (as in a piece of the cake). More specifically, I suggest that the agreement features of a superlative exhibits depend on the domain from which the target is drawn (the target-domain hypothesis). When the target is a degree, as it is with adverbial superlatives and certain relative superlatives, default neuter singular emerges. Definiteness there is driven by the same process that drives definiteness with adverbial superlatives. With proportional readings, the target argument of the superlative is a subpart or subset of the domain indicated by the substance noun, hence number agreement. Subtle aspects of how the comparison class and the superlative marker are construed determine definiteness for proportional readings.