Vol. 9 (2023)

Comparatives, Superlatives and Definiteness in Romance

Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin
Université Paris Cité

Published 2023-09-30


  • Comparative,
  • Definite,
  • Grammaticalization,
  • Superlative

How to Cite

Dobrovie-Sorin, C. (2023). Comparatives, Superlatives and Definiteness in Romance. Quaderni Di Linguistica E Studi Orientali, 9, 97–116. https://doi.org/10.36253/qulso-2421-7220-15157


Romance languages do not have superlative-dedicated morphemes (see most/-est in English) but instead express superlative meanings by using a comparative combined with a definite article. There are, however, interesting crosslinguistic differences that indicate that the role of “definiteness” for the superlative meaning of comparatives is different across Romance languages. Thus, French superlative adverbs and superlative postnominal adjectives are necessarily formed with (what looks like) a definite article (THE notates items that are morphologically identical to the definite article across languages) preceding the comparative morpheme plus (ER notates the comparative morpheme across languages, regardless of whether it is an affix or a free standing morpheme), whereas in the Italian corresponding examples THE is banned. According to Loccioni (2018) this crosslinguistic difference is not structural: in order to get superlative meanings Italian comparatives would be formed with a covert D(eterminer) corresponding to THE in French. I will propose instead that whereas French has a superlative-dedicated phrase of the form [THE ER], Italian has a “bare”, i.e., a THE-less ER that moreover lacks a than-argument, which gets a superlative meaning via raising to the Spec of [THE].


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