Matushansky (2008)

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Matushansky, Ora 2008. 'On the attributive nature of superlatives', Syntax 11/1, 26-90.


Abstract:

 The standard view of superlatives treats them as a subkind of adjectives. However, in many languages, superlatives require the presence of a determiner, even in the predicate position. This leads to an apparent contradiction, since it is independently known that determiners syntactically combine with extended NP projections and are excluded with APs. This issue is resolved if superlative adjectives always appear in an attributive (modificational) position. Superlative phrases without an overt noun (e.g., in the predicative position) modify a null head noun. I show that this hypothesis immediately explains the restrictions on the distribution of superlatives in languages as diverse as Russian, French, German, Dutch, Breton, Spanish and Portuguese. I propose that the modificational nature of superlative adjectives can be derived from their semantics, and I argue that such a proposal yields a natural explanation of the behavior of superlatives in Hebrew and Persian. Finally, I discuss the interaction between this theory and the standard, movement-based analyses of comparatives and superlatives and provide an explanation for apparent counterexamples.