Addressing the 'two interface' problem: Comparatives and superlatives

Ewan Dunbar, Alexis Cornelia Wellwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


How much meaning can a morpheme have? Syntactic and morphological analyses generally underdetermine when distinctions in meaning between two forms are due to (i) the presence of an additional syntactic head or to (ii) different information coded on the same head. Surveying patterns across hundreds of languages, Bobaljik (2012) hypothesizes that superlative forms universally consist of a comparative morpheme plus an additional superlative morpheme, e.g., tallest is underlyingly [ SUP [ CMPR [ TALL ] ] ]. Bobaljik’s hypothesis includes, in part, a speculative proposal for a universal limit on the semantic complexity of morphemes. We offer a concrete basis for this proposal, the ‘No Containment Condition’ (NCC). The NCC is a constraint on grammars such that they cannot contain a certain semantic representation for a unitary head, if that representation can be constructed out of the semantic representations of two heads. Illustrating the proposal, we take Bobaljik’s analysis of forms like tallest further, into [ [ [ CMPR SUP ] MUCH ] TALL ]. Based in semantic analysis, our suggestion introduces Bresnan’s (1973) classical analysis of comparatives into the decomposition of superlatives.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages5
JournalGlossa: a Journal of General Linguistics
StatePublished - 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Addressing the 'two interface' problem: Comparatives and superlatives'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this