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Computing Genitive Superlatives

Johan Bos

Eighth International Conference on Computational Semantics (IWCS-8 2009)
Tilburg University, Netherlands, January 7-9, 2009


Superlative expressions (such as ``the tallest boy'') single out entities by comparing them to others with respect to a set of properties. Therefore, a proper semantics for a superlative expression requires a correct computation of the comparison set. In most of the cases, this can be done in a straightforward, compositional fashion. When superlative adjectives occur in prenominal genitive constructions (such as ``his most expensive car'', this isn't so straightforward anymore. Three solutions are proposed, that all change the underlying syntactic structure of the genitive construction in order to arrive at a correct comparison set. The solution where ordinary nouns are analysed ``relationally'' is preferred, because it requires the least number of modifications of the underling grammar. Under certain conditions, superlatives also exhibit so-called comparative readings (as opposed to absolute readings). With the current machinery it is however impossible to account for such readings in a compositional way.

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