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The semantics and pragmatics of gradable adjectives: Integrating perspectives from linguistic theory, psycholinguistics and modeling (XPrag-ADJ19)


Workshop organized as part of the SPP 1727 " New Pragmatic Theories based on Experimental Evidence" in Cologne, Germany, May 23-24, 2019.

Organizers: Anton Benz (Leibniz-ZAS Berlin), Nicole Gotzner (Leibniz-ZAS Berlin), Petra Schumacher (Cologne) and Stephanie Solt (Leibniz-ZAS Berlin), Barbara Tomaszewicz-Özakın (Cologne)

Venue: Luxemburger Strasse 299 [aka House of Prominence, HoP], Cologne, 5th floor (Spitzboden) 


Scope and goals of the workshop

Gradable adjectives give rise to a variety of fascinating semantic and pragmatic effects and this research area is a showcase for the integration of formal work with psycholinguistic experimentation (for an overview see for example Castroviejo, McNally & Sassoon, 2018). The study of adjectival semantics includes aspects of vagueness, scale structure, degree semantics, comparison classes, dimensionality and evaluativity, among others. Distinctions between different types of adjectives and degree modification have been found to be acquired early in language development (Syrett, 2006; Barner & Snedeker, 2008; Tribushinina & Gillis, 2012). Our understanding of adjectival semantics has also been advanced by psycholinguistic experiments with adults, for example addressing the questions how relative and absolute adjectives are processed (Rips & Turnbull, 1980; Frazier, Stolterfoht & Clifton, 2008; Aparicio, Xiang & Kennedy, 2018), how adults determine the standard of comparison for different adjectives classes (Toledo & Sassoon, 2011; Solt & Gotzner, 2012; McNabb, 2012; Solt, 2016; Liao & Meskin, 2017; Tomaszewicz & Schumacher, 2018) and how comparatives are processed (Tucker, Tomaszewiecz & Wellwood, 2018).

More recently, experimental research has investigated a variety of pragmatic aspects such as imprecision (Leffel, Xiang & Kennedy, 2016), scalar implicatures (van Tiel et al., 2016; Gotzner, Solt & Benz, 2018; Leffel, Cremers, Gotzner & Romoli, forthcoming) and manner implicatures like negative strengthening (Ruytenbeek, Verheyen & Spector, 2017; Gotzner, Solt & Benz, 2018; Tessler & Franke, 2018). The area of vagueness has also been particularly fruitful for computational modeling that integrates insights of semantic and pragmatic theories (Lassiter & Goodman 2013, 2015, 2017; Lassiter, 2015; Qing & Franke, 2014; Tessler & Franke, 2018).

Invited Speakers:  

Michael Franke (Osnabrück)

Louise McNally (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

Kristen Syrett (Rutgers University)  

Steven Verheyen (KU Leuven)


Program (for abstract click here)
Thursday May 23

  9:30   Welcome (with coffee)
10:00   Louise McNally: Scalar alternatives and scalar inference involving adjectives
11:00   Merle Weicker and Petra Schulz: Not all gradable adjectives are vague – Experimental evidence from children and adults
11:30   Michael Henry Tessler, Noah Goodman and Roger Levy: Comparison class inference for gradable adjectives
12:00   Lunch Break 
13:30   Poster Session
15:00   Coffee break
15:30   Jérémy Zehr and Nattanun Chanchaochai: Ambidirectionality and Thai mid-scale terms: when 'warm' means less hot
16:00   Steven Verheyen: Vague gradable adjectives: Experimenting with probabilistic models
17:00   End

18:00    Workshop Get-together (@ Haus Unkelbach)

Friday May 24

 9:30    Kristen Syrett: Setting the standard and making comparisons in language acquisition
10:30   Catherine Davies, Jamie Lingwood and Sudha Arunachalam: What kinds of adjectives do preschoolers encounter in the input, and how do they process what they hear?
11:00   Coffee Break
11:30   Jérémy Zehr and Paul Egre: Contradictory Descriptions with Absolute Adjectives
12:00  Giorgos Spathas: Proportional modification of gradable adjectives: the case of percentrages  
12:30   Lunch Break
13:30  Seungjin Hong, Jean-Pierre Koenig, Gail Mauner and Aron Marvel: Computing Category membership for tall: An error minimization approach
14:00  Michael Franke: Rational Griceans are vague
15:00  Closing


Remaining alternate:

Carla Umbach and Umut Ozge: Scalar and non-scalar equatives in Turkish



Alena Anishchanka and Steven Verheyen: Color term basicness in experimental and corpus-based research - CANCELED

Helena Aparicio, Roger Levy and Elizabeth Coppock: How to find the rabbit in the big(ger) box: Reasoning about contextual parameters for relative adjectives under embedding

Nicole Gotzner, Stephanie Solt and Anton Benz: Interplay of scalar and manner implicature

Myung Hye Yoo: Are all absolute predicates truly absolute?     

Claudia Lehmann: Gradable adjectives in ironic constructions

Mora Maldonado, Alexander Martin and Jennifer Culbertson: An experimental approach to inferences to the standard in comparative constructions

Les Sikos, Noortje Venhuizen, Heiner Drenhaus and Matthew Crocker: Reevaluating pragmatic reasoning in web-based language games

Barbara Tomaszewicz-Özakin and Petra B. Schumacher: World knowledge and the absolute-relative distinction in adjectives

Carla Umbach and Umut Ozge: Scalar and non-scalar equatives in Turkish




Call for abstracts
At our workshop, we especially welcome contributions that integrate perspectives from linguistic theory with psycholinguistics and/or modeling. We invite contributions that build on various sources of data (formal work, experiments with children or adults, corpora, modeling). Topics of special interest to the workshop include the following:

• Degree semantics and gradability
• Measurement theory and scale structure
• Comparison classes
• Vagueness
• Granularity and Imprecision
• Evaluativity
• Different kinds of implicature
• Polarity
• Antonyms
• Color adjectives
• Predicates of personal taste


Abstracts must not exceed two pages in PDF format, including examples and references, with 1 inch margins on all sides and 12 point font size. Please make your submission via by March 15, 2019


For any inquiries, please contact Nicole Gotzner (gotzner( at ) or Barbara Tomaszewiscz-Özakın (btomasze( at )




Where to stay in Cologne

XPrag-Adj19 will take place at Luxemburger Straße 299, 50939 Cologne.

To find accommodation, we recommend the following booking websites:


The hotel „Euronova Arthotel“ is only 1 km or 2 bus stations away from our venue. This is the hotel website:

Notice that there is a fair in Cologne at the same time as our workshop. Make sure to book your hotel as early as possible.