Measurement theory in linguistics

Galit Weidman Sassoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


This paper presents a novel semantic analysis of unit names (like pound and meter) and gradable adjectives (like tall, short and happy), inspired by measurement theory (Krantz et al. In Foundations of measurement: Additive and Polynomial Representations, 1971). Based on measurement theory's four-way typology of measures, I claim that different adjectives are associated with different types of measures whose special characteristics, together with features of the relations denoted by unit names, explain the puzzling limited distribution of measure phrases, as well as unit-based comparisons between predicates (as in the table is longer than it is wide). All considered, my analyses support the view that the grammar of natural languages is sensitive to features of measurement theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-180
Number of pages30
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conjunctive or disjunctive adjectives (healthy wrt blood pressure, pulse and body fever) Prime, bird, apple, tall person, fat or bald, fat and happy Aknowledgments This work was made possible by the Orgler Scholarship, Tel Aviv University (2004– 2007), and the Pratt postdoc scholarship, Ben Gurion University of the Negev (2007–2008). Part of the research for this paper was carried out in the project ‘On vagueness – and how to be precise enough’, funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO 360-20-201). I warmly thank my former supervisors Nirit Kadmon and Fred Landman. I also wish to thank personally Robert van Rooij and Danny Fox for invaluable comments on drafts of this paper. This paper is based on my conference presentation in “Vagueness and Language use”, April 2008, Paris, and my presentations in SUB13, and IATL24. I warmly thank the reviewers and audience of these conferences, as well as those of SALT XVIII, for their most helpful comments. Special thanks to Arik Cohen, Arnim von Stechow, Manfred Krifka, Edit Doron, Roger Schwarzschild, Sally McConnell Ginet, Chris Kennedy, Louise McNally, Yael Sharvit, Micha Breakstone and Adar Weidman. Needless to say, any mistakes are solely mine.


  • Degree
  • Gradable adjective
  • Measure phrase
  • Measurement theory
  • Unit


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