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Nominal Comparatives

Nominal comparatives are considered here to be those which compare the cardinality of two sets of entities denoted by nominal phrases. The following data lay out a basic distribution of these comparatives.
More vikings than mongols eat spam.  (462)0(462
*More the vikings than mongols eat spam.  (463)0(463
Vikings eat less spaghetti than spam.  (464)0(464
More men that walk to the store than women who despise spam enjoyed the football game.  (465)0(465
More men than James like scotch on the rocks.  (466)0(466
Elmer knows fewer martians than rabbits. 

Looking at these examples, we are tempted to produce a tree for this construction that is similar to ARBaPa. However, it is quite common for the than portion of these comparatives to be left out, as in the following sentences:

More vikings eat spam.  (468)0(468
Mongols eat less spam. 

Furthermore, than NP cannot occur without more. These facts indicate that we can and should build up nominal comparatives with two separate trees. The first, which allows a comparative adverb to adjoin to a noun, is given in Figure 23.3(a). The second is the noun-phrase modifying prepositional tree. The tree CARBn is anchored by more/less/fewer and CnxPnx is anchored by than. The feature compar is used to ensure that only one CARBn tree can adjoin to any given noun--its foot node is compar- and the root node is compar+. All nouns are compar-, and the compar value is passed up through all trees which adjoin to N or NP. In order to ensure that we do not allow sentences like *Vikings than mongols eat spam, the compar feature is used. The NP foot node of CnxPnx is compar+; thus, CnxPnx will adjoin only to NP's which have been already modified by CARBn (and thereby comparativized). In this way, we capture sentences like ((468)) en route to deriving sentences like ((462)), in a principled and simple manner.

ps/comparatives-files/ ps/comparatives-files/  
(a) CARBn tree         (b) CnxPnx tree  

{Nominal comparative trees


Further evidence for this approach comes from comparative clauses which are missing the noun phrase which is being compared against something, as in the following:

The vikings ate more.23.2  (470)0(470
The vikings ate more than a boar.23.3 

Sometimes the missing noun refers to an entity or set available in the prior discourse, while at other times it is a reference to some anonymous, unspecified set. The former is exemplified in a mini-discourse such as the following:
Calvin: ``The mongols ate spam.''
Hobbes: ``The vikings ate more.''
The latter can be seen in the following example:
Calvin: ``The vikings ate a a boar.''
Hobbes: ``Indeed. But in fact, the vikings ate more than a boar.''
Since the lone comparatives more/less/fewer have the same basic distribution as noun phrases, the tree in Figure 23.4 is employed to capture this fact. The root node of CARB is compar+. Not only does this accord with our intuitions about what the compar feature is supposed to indicate, it also permits nxPnx to adjoin, giving us strings such as more than NP for free.


{Tree for Lone Comparatives: $\alpha$CARB


Thus, by splitting nominal comparatives into multiple trees, we make correct predictions about their distribution with a minimal number of simple trees. Furthermore, we now also get certain comparative coordinations for free, once we place the requirement that nouns and noun phrases must match for compar if they are to be coordinated. This yields strings such as the following:

Julius eats more grapes and fewer boars than avocados.  (472)0(472
Were there more or less than fifty people (at the party)? 

The structures are given in Figure 23.5. Also, it will block strings like more men and women than children under the (impossible) interpretation that there are more men than children but the comparison of the quantity of women to children is not performed. Unfortunately, it will permit comparative clauses such as more grapes and fewer than avocados under the interpretation in which there are more grapes than avocados and fewer of some unspecified thing than avocados (see Figure 23.6).


{Comparative conjunctions.



{Comparative conjunctions.


One aspect of this analysis is that it handles the elliptical comparatives such as the following:

Arnold kills more bad guys than Steven. 

In a sense, this is actually only simulating the ellipsis of these constructions indirectly. However, consider the following sentences:

Arnold kills more bad guys than I do.  (475)0(475
Arnold kills more bad guys than I.  (476)0(476
Arnold kills more bad guys than me. 

The first of these has a pro-verb phrase which has a nominative subject. If we totally drop the second verb phrase, we find that the second NP can be in either the nominative or the accusative case. Prescriptive grammars disallow accusative case, but it actually is more common to find accusative case--use of the nominative in conversation tends to sound rather stiff and unnatural. This accords with the present analysis in which the second noun phrase in these comparatives is the complement of than in nxPnx, and receives its case-marking from than. This does mean that the grammar will not currently accept ((476)), and indeed such sentences will only be covered by an analysis which really deals with the ellipsis. Yet the fact that most speakers produce ((477)) indicates that some sort of restructuring has occured that results in the kind of structure the present analysis offers. There is yet another distributional fact which falls out of this analysis. When comparative or comparativized adjectives modify a noun phrase, they can stand alone or occur with a than phrase; furthermore, they are obligatory when a than-phrase is present.

Hobbes is a better teacher.  (478)0(478
Hobbes is a better teacher than Bill.  (479)0(479
A more exquisite horse launched onto the racetrack.  (480)0(480
A more exquisite horse than Black Beauty launched onto the racetrack.  (481)0(481
*Hobbes is a teacher than Bill. 

Comparative adjectives such as better come from the lexicon as compar+. By having trees such as An transmit the compar value of the A node to the root N node, we can signal to CnxPnx that it may adjoin when a comparative adjective has adjoined. An example of such an adjunction is given in Figure 23.7. Of course, if no comparative element is present in the lower part of the noun phrase, nxPnx will not be able to adjoin since nouns themselves are compar-. In order to capture the fact that a comparative element blocks further modification to N, An must only adjoin to N nodes which are compar- in their lower feature matrix.


{Adjunction of $\beta$nxPnx to NP modified by comparative adjective.


In order to obtain this result for phrases like more exquisite horse, we need to provide a way for more and less to modify adjectives without a than-clause as we have with ARBaPa. Actually, we need this ability independently for comparative adjectival phrases, as discussed in the next section.

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