The subjective mode of comparison: Metalinguistic comparatives in Greek and Korean

Anastasia Giannakidou, Suwon Yoon

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In this paper, we present a striking parallel between Greek and Korean in the formation and interpretation of metalinguistic comparatives. The initial observation is that both languages show an empirical contrast between ordinary and metalinguistic comparatives realized in two places: (a) in the form of a designated metalinguistic comparative MORE, and (b) in the form of THAN employed. We propose (building on earlier ideas in Giannakidou and Stavrou 2009; Giannakidou and Yoon 2009) that the metalinguistic comparative is subjective and attitudinal, i. e. it introduces the point of view of an individual towards a sentence-and argue that the individual expresses invariably an attitude of preference: she prefers one sentence (the sentence itself, or the proposition it expresses) in a given context over another. The preference may come out as completely negative in certain cases, and this is manifested as yet another MORE lexicalization in Korean (charari), which selects nuni-THAN, which itself carries a negative expressive index (in the sense of Potts 2007b), we will claim. Expressive negativity is not equivalent to negation in syntax, as nuni alone cannot license NPIs that need negation. If our analysis is correct, it has one important implication that goes beyond just the metalinguistic comparatives in the individual languages we are considering. It allows the generalization that metalinguistic functions in language are indeed part of the grammar. In particular, they are reflexes of grammaticalization of perspective and subjective mode, on a par with predicates of personal taste discussed by Lasersohn (2005, 2008, 2009), mood choice, and similar phenomena. In comparatives, subjective mode is manifested as an attitude of preference, with possible addition of expressive meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-655
Number of pages35
JournalNatural Language and Linguistic Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Anchor of comparison
  • Expressive meaning
  • Greek
  • Korean
  • Metalinguistic THAN
  • Metalinguistic comparative MORE
  • Preference attitude
  • Quotation
  • Rescuing of NPIs
  • Subjective mode
  • Vulgar minimizers


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