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Stefan Hofstetter (Tübingen)

Comparison in Thai: European Patterns in a Language from Southeast Asia*

Comparison in Thai: European Patterns in a Language from Southeast Asia
This article is dedicated to comparison in the Thai language and pursues an empirical as well as a theoretical goal: From an empirical point of view, it aims at filling a data gap in the cross-linguistic study of comparison by offering an overview of the most common Thai comparison constructions, a language in which this linguistic phenomenon has never been systematically examined up to now. In terms of theory, it argues that the exceed-account that has traditionally been suggested for comparison in this language cannot be maintained in view of striking translation mismatches and syntactic inadequacies, the availability of direct measure phrase constructions, degree questions as well as subcomparatives, all of which would be expected to be absent from Thai under an exceed-style approach and also the occurrence of scopal ambiguities, which should likewise be unattested under such an analysis. In the end, an alternative, degree-based and essentially English-like account of comparison in Thai is developed that can handle the empirical data much more adequately and at the same time also underlines the fact that (at least) with regard to comparison, Thai is radically different from other Asian languages such as Japanese or Mandarin Chinese.

1 Introduction

The following article primarily focusses on presenting and summarising the main insights gained from a large-scale empirical study on comparatives and a considerable number of related comparison constructions in the Thai language, a topic which – to the best of my knowledge – has never been investigated in any comprehensive fashion, so far. Of course, such an extensive data study reveals numerous fascinating details, many of which would undoubtedly deserve a presentation of their own, but for the remainder of this little treatise, I should actually like to confine myself to these three major aspects: First of all, I intend to offer a brief overview of the most important comparison constructions attested in Thai; secondly, I envisage putting forth various arguments against classifying this language within the group of languages that is characterised by an exceed-style comparison, among which Thai happens to be counted in current linguistic literature; and thirdly, an alternative, degree-based approach to comparison in Thai will be proposed that can capture the empirical findings in this language in a much more adequate fashion. More precisely, the following section two briefly comments on the design of the empirical study I have run, it illustrates the most prominent comparison constructions available in the Thai language on the basis of natural example sentences, and it ultimately also verifies the necessity of carrying out genuine empirical fieldwork even within more formally oriented branches of linguistics, as has already been widely accepted and become standard in most other linguistic disciplines.

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Next, subsection three sketches the traditional exceed-type account of comparison in Thai, before it calls this sort of approach into question in view of striking translation mismatches, syntactic inadequacies and the occurrence of particular kinds of comparison constructions as well as that of scopal ambiguities, both of which would be completely unexpected under a classical exceed-analysis and which, at the same time, set Thai apart not only from canonical exceed-languages as such, but also from many other languages from the same geographic area, as exemplified by Japanese and Mandarin Chinese in what follows.1 The ensuing fourth section then elaborates an English-style approach to comparison for Thai that, in sharp contrast to the largely wrong predictions made by an exceed-type account, is fully in line with the empirical picture attested in this specific language. Section five finally concludes this paper and also formulates several desiderata for future research within this linguistic domain.

2 An Empirical Study on Comparison Constructions in Thai

2.1 The Design of the Study

In the course of my empirical study on the vast variety of possibilities of expressing a comparison in the Thai language, I have interviewed a substantial number of native speakers on a sample of more than 250 sentences each to obtain a thorough amount of positive and negative evidence alike. Doing so, I have first collected traditional grammaticality judgments in order to check for the (un-)availability of various comparison constructions as well as the actual shape that these take in this particular language, making use of a scale ranging from “1” down to “4”, as depicted in (1) below:2

(1)1: This sentence sounds perfect to me, and I could have used it myself.
 2: This sentence sounds slightly odd. I should probably not have used it myself, but I can well imagine other native speakers using it, and I have definitely come across this sort of construction, before.
 3: This sentence sounds rather strange. I am not sure whether I have ever seen/heard anything along these lines before, and I doubt that a native speaker would use such a sentence.
 4: This sentence sounds bad to me, and I am sure that no native speaker would ever use it in a natural language situation.

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In a second step, I have then investigated possible ambiguities with potentially ambiguous sentences, the grammatical status of which had been established as completely uncontroversial beforehand, in that I have manipulated contexts and asked my informants to what extent they were willing to accept a test sentence in the context at hand on an analogous acceptability scale, once again involving judgments between “1” and “4”, an exemplary case of which will be shown with example (23) to be dealt with in subsection 2.2. As a matter of fact, checking for ambiguities by examining the appropriateness conditions of a given sentence constitutes an integral part of such an empirical investigation, because their respective occurrence or absence has far-reaching theoretical consequences, as will become clear in subsection 3.2.3 below. In what follows, I shall next summarise (a very limited number of) the results achieved from this study on comparison in Thai.

2.2 An Overview of Various Thai Comparison Constructions

Let me begin my little survey of the individual comparison constructions attested in the Thai language with the four construction types that are usually considered to be basic: the comparative, the positive, the equative and the superlative. In Thai, a standard comparative is formed by the comparee term (Maria in (2a) below), followed by a gradable predicate (suung in the case at hand), which is in turn followed by a combination of the element gwaa and the standard term of the comparison (Hans):3

A canonical Thai positive consists in nothing but a comparee term and the gradable predicate itself, as can be seen from (3) below, and an equative is usually marked by the element thao (cf. (4)):

And Thai superlatives are typically characterised by a construction in which the relative pronoun thee both precedes and follows the respective gradable predicate and that is finally completed by the element soot, as illustrated in examples (5) and (6) below:

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Next, I should like to introduce a number of special subcategories of the basic comparative type, including differential comparatives featuring an overt differential (2 sen-dti-maeht and yaang dtam 5 ohng saa in (7) and (8), respectively), intensified comparatives with the intensifying expressions yang (9) and eek (10) appearing in different syntactic positions, subcomparatives involving a comparison with respect to two distinct gradable properties (extensions in the spatial dimensions ‘height’ and ‘width’ in (11) below), direct comparison with an explicit degree (170 sen-dti-maeht in example (12)), adverbial comparatives in which the element expressing the regard in which the comparee and the standard terms are compared to each other performs the function of an adverb (reo with (13) below), comparatives based on antonyms (diaao in the case of (14))4 and finally so-called less-comparatives, an example of which is introduced in (15):

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Moreover, I have also checked for the availability of a couple of related comparison constructions in Thai, such as degree questions, exemplified in (16) below, measure phrase constructions in which a gradable predicate directly combines with an overt measure phrase (172 sen-dti-maeht in (17)) as well as standard Thai too and enough constructions, as illustrated in (18) and (19), respectively:

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The ungrammatical status of example (20) below furthermore shows that Thai displays essentially the same Negative Island Effects as have been observed to arise in English (cf. (21)) or German whenever a comparative’s standard term takes on a meaning that is negative in nature:5

(21) *Mary is taller than no boy is. [taken from Gajewski (2009: 340); his (2)]

To finish off this little overview, I should like to draw my readers’ attention to one exemplary instantiation of an ambiguous comparison construction, the detailed discussion of which I shall postpone to section 3.2.3 below. As has for instance been noted in Heim (2001), English comparatives featuring both, an overt modal as well as a differential modified by exactly (cf. example sentence (22), where the bracketed first part serves as the underlying context), often give rise to interesting ambiguities: In a scenario in which someone has written a draft that is ten pages in length and enquires about the length requirement of the actual paper that is to be written on the basis of this draft, (22) can for example either mean that the prospective article has to be exactly 15 pages long and is not allowed to be any shorter or longer than that at all, or else, it can be taken to specify just its minimal length requirement, in which case the final article would also be permitted to turn out somewhat longer, say 16, 17 or even 18 pages:

Interestingly enough, the corresponding Thai equivalent given in (23) below also allows for both, the exactly-15-pages-in-total interpretation as well as the minimal requirement reading, given that all my native speaker informants readily accepted this sentence in the two contexts specified in (24) alike:

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context 1: Mary has to write an article and for that use, she has written a 10-page-long draft. Now, she is not sure how long the actual article into which her draft will be turned needs to be. So she asks her professor about it. The professor knows that Mary has written a 10-page-long draft and utters sentence (23). Thereby, he wants to express that the actual article must be at least exactly five pages longer than her draft, which means: Mary’s article must be at least 15 pages long, but it is no problem if it is even longer than that (say, 16, 17 or even 18 pages).

context 2: Mary has to write an article and for that use, she has written a 10-page-long draft. Now, she is not sure how long the actual article into which her draft will be turned needs to be. So she asks her professor about it. The professor knows that Mary has written a 10-page-long draft and utters sentence (23). Thereby, he wants to express that the actual article must be exactly five pages longer than her draft, which means: Mary’s article must be exactly 15 pages long and is neither allowed to turn out any shorter than that (for instance 14 pages), nor any longer (for example 16 pages).

2.3 A Plea for Empirical Fieldwork in Formal Linguistics

Having described the technical arrangement of my data study and also listed its major results, let me now seize the opportunity to underline the need for carrying out such empirical fieldwork. For although it is undoubtedly true that such data elicitation is sometimes a rather cumbersome and generally a very time-consuming task, it is nevertheless my firm conviction that it cannot simply be dispensed with, given that restricting oneself to the data provided by grammar books and dictionaries alone, as has for example been done in Stassen (1985, cf. in particular his comments on 12) or in Haspelmath (1993),6 or to the consultation of linguistic corpora invariably leads to at least three insurmountable difficulties: First of all, the alternative strategy commonly fails, because once one leaves the field of well-studied Indo-European languages such as English or German and turns towards more ‘exotic’ ones, there are often no dictionaries and/or grammar books to consult any more, and annotated corpora are not always available, either. Secondly, collecting negative evidence generally poses specific problems in that even in cases where one disposes of adequate corpora, it usually remains highly unclear what conclusion to draw from the absence of a given phenomenon: Is this truly indicative of its non-occurrence in the respective language, are we dealing with a purely accidental gap in the given corpus or else, is this to be taken as a sign of a potential scarcity of the element under scrutiny? And thirdly, discovering ambiguities like the one depicted for (23) above is also completely impossible in that even if one is lucky enough to find such a natural language example in a running text, the context alone is normally quite insufficient for disambiguation, and you thus cannot tell whether a sentence that is possibly ambiguous gives only rise to the first, just to the second or even to both of the two potential readings. Crucially observe that all these three obstacles immediately disappear within the empirical fieldwork approach: Except for dead languages, there are native speakers for any language whatsoever one wishes to investigate, no matter how ‘exotic’ it might happen to be, negative evidence can be elicited directly and, making use of different contexts, it is also possible to ask informants about multiple readings of one and the same sentence. In sum, I therefore totally agree with Lisa Matthewson, for whom “asking for judgments is an indispensable methodological tool” (Matthewson (2004: 376)).

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3 Thai as an Exceed-Language?

3.1 The Classical Exceed-Account

After this little digression into questions of research methodology, let me now take a look at how comparison in Thai has traditionally been approached in linguistic literature. As far as I can tell, not much has been published on this issue so far, and the only treatise on comparison constructions taking this particular language into consideration is the truly outstanding pioneering and cross-linguistic work offered in Stassen (1985), where the expression gwaa in a canonical Thai comparative like (2a) (repeated from above for the reader’s convenience)

has been taken to be a verbal element, whose meaning roughly corresponds to that of the verb exceed in English. According to this view, in the Thai language, it is thus a verb that expresses the fundamental ‘greater than’-relation comparatives come with, and we therefore expect these to be analysed in a way paralleling English exceed-comparatives (cf. subsection 3.2.3), an example of which is given in (25) below:

At the same time, it must however also be stressed that up to now, a full-fledged exceed-style analysis of comparatives has never been elaborated, so that John Vanderelst is certainly right when criticising that “the exceed-strategy has not yet enjoyed [...] an in-depth study” (Vanderelst (2009: 343)). But be that as it may, in Stassen (1985) (admittedly representing an investigation with a primarily typological rather than a substantially analytical orientation), it is argued that Thai should be counted among those languages that are characterised by an exceed-type comparative (in contrast to ‘separative’, ‘allative’, ‘locative’ and ‘conjoined’ comparatives constituting the four other major kinds of comparatives in the universal classification developed there (1985: 39ff.)), and it seems that this account is actually still state of the art today, as can be seen from the fact that the Thai language continues to be listed among those featuring exceed-style comparatives in The World Atlas of Language Structures Online (Stassen (2008)). As a matter of fact, many of the results from my empirical investigation of comparison in Thai cast serious doubt on the validity of such an approach, though, which is what I shall illustrate in turn in the following subsections.

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3.2 Arguments against an Exceed-Style Account of Comparison in Thai

3.2.1 Translation Mismatches and Syntactic Inadequacies

When eliciting the Thai data, it has turned out that none of my informants offered exceed as a possible translation of gwaa and in a similar fashion, translation tasks in the opposite direction have also failed systematically: There has not even been a single informant who translated exceed by gwaa. Of course, in and by itself, this observation is surely not yet a sufficient argument for rejecting an exceed-style account of comparison in Thai, given that native speakers lacking a linguistic background are often not particularly consistent in their translations, but it has certainly raised first doubts about an exceed-type analysis and has made me become suspicious of such an account. In addition, certain syntactic aspects of the construction have further increased these initial doubts: Apparently, canonical Thai comparatives such as the one depicted in (2a) above invariably lack a preposition corresponding to English in in example sentence (25). Critical minds might now object that it is not necessarily the case that such prepositions be realised overtly, but it also looks suspicious that the respect to which the standard and the comparee term are compared appears in the form of the adjective suung and not as an element that is nominal in nature, as is the case with English courage in (25), and which is taken to be characteristic of exceed-like comparatives in general. Also note, in this context, that Thai does not represent a language where nouns and adjectives cannot be distinguished formally, but that it rather patterns with English in this regard, where we typically get systematic differences in form between adjectives and their nominal counterparts, as can be seen for three exemplary cases from the corresponding contrasts shown in (26) below:

In sum, the attested translation mismatches and the apparent syntactic inadequacies thus present two initial puzzles for the traditional exceed-style approach suggested for Thai in Stassen (1985).

3.2.2 The Occurrence of Direct Measure Phrase Constructions, Degree Questions and Subcomparatives

A further difficulty for an exceed-like account of comparison in Thai comes from the occurrence of particular types of comparison constructions in this language, because under such an account, the cluster of constructions ‘direct measure phrases’, ‘degree questions’ and ‘subcomparatives’ identified in Beck et al. (2009: 22f.) would be predicted to be unattested in the Thai language. This prediction follows from the observation that exceed-languages are characterised by a lack of degrees as such (ibid.) and the fact that abstraction over a degree variable constitutes an indispensable step in the derivation of all three constructions alike. To get an idea of how this process of degree abstraction is supposed to work in practice, the necessity of which was stressed as early as in Bresnan (1973) already, in (28) below, I reproduce the Logical Form proposed in Beck et al. (2009) for the English subcomparative given in (27), where the position at which the relevant process of degree abstraction takes place is indicated by underlining:

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Obviously, if there are no degrees to start with, these surely cannot leave behind traces to abstract over. The empirical picture in Thai shows, however, that this prediction is totally incorrect: In fact, Thai does allow for direct measure phrase constructions (cf. (17), repeated from above), and surprisingly enough, Thai is even more productive in this respect than the English language itself, in that it permits this particular type of construction with a wider range of adjectives, as demonstrated in an exemplary fashion in (29) below, the English equivalent of which happens to be downright ungrammatical:

Likewise, degree questions as well as subcomparatives are also both part of the inventory of comparison constructions in Thai, as indicated by the perfectly impeccable status of the examples in (16) and (11) (also reproduced from above), respectively:

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Interestingly enough, the availability of these three constructions not only sets Thai apart from classical exceed-languages as such and therefore creates an additional puzzle for an exceed-style analysis of comparison in this language, but at the same time, this property also distinguishes Thai from other East Asian languages: In this context, it has for instance been reported that Japanese does not allow for any of these special constructions, as can be seen from their totally ungrammatical statuses throughout (cf. (30), (31) and (32) below),7 nor does Mandarin Chinese (cf. the negative evidence provided in (33) to (35)):8

3.2.3 The Availability of Scopal Ambiguities

A last problem for analysing comparison in Thai in an exceed-style fashion is ultimately constituted by the availability of a set of ambiguities deriving from scopal interactions. As has already been pointed out in section 2.2 above, a Thai sentence like

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comes with both, an exactly-15-pages-in-total interpretation as well as a minimal requirement reading, just like its English counterpart. In the latter language, this ambiguity has standardly been explained by assuming that the comparative operator may undergo Quantifier Raising and thus scope either below or above the modal expression itself, as illustrated by the two respective Logical Forms sketched in (36a) and (36b) below, the first one generating the exactly-15-pages-in-total reading and the second one in turn giving rise to the minimal requirement interpretation:

Crucially observe that under an exceed-style analysis, Thai would have to be predicted to display no such scope ambiguities, because it is the verbal element gwaa that expresses the comparison and verbs are generally not expected to Quantifier Raise,9 so that no minimal requirement reading should arise, a prediction that once again clashes with my empirical findings. And once more, the availability of such scopal ambiguities not only makes Thai differ from canonical exceed-comparative languages per se, but also from Japanese, (37) only allowing for an exactly-15-pages-in-total interpretation and no minimal requirement reading (cf. Beck/Oda/Sugisaki (2004: 331)), as well as from Mandarin Chinese (for a similar Chinese example lacking the relevant reading and discussion thereof, cf. Krasikova (2007: 269ff.)):

In total, there is thus compelling evidence from translation mismatches, syntactic inadequacies, the occurrence of direct measure phrase constructions, degree questions and subcomparatives as well as from the availability of scopal interactions that clearly speaks against classifying Thai as a language displaying an exceed-type of comparison and which also makes comparison in Thai fundamentally different from comparison in other languages from East Asia.

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4 A Degree-Based Analysis of Comparison in Thai

By now, it should have become more than obvious that pursuing an exceed-style strategy is not a viable option for analysing comparison constructions in the Thai language, which immediately raises the question of how comparison in this specific language could alternatively be accounted for in a more adequate way. I shall be tackling this question in subsection 4.2 below, but before doing so, two directly related issues need to be settled: First, if the expression gwaa does not constitute a verb with a meaning along the lines of exceed, where is the verb in a standard Thai comparative, then? For arguably, every finite clause indispensably contains at least one verbal element, be this overtly realised or just covertly present. And second, if gwaa does not denote an exceed-like verb, what is its grammatical status, instead, and which semantic contribution does it make to the comparison? In the next subsection, I should like to approach these two aspects, in turn.

4.1 Copula Incorporation and the Status of gwaa

When faced with an apparently verbless clause, the most natural thing to do would probably be to stipulate the presence of a copula verb that is not phonologically/graphically realised and which does therefore not show up on the surface and to include Thai within the many languages that do not express copulas overtly, among which counts for instance Classical Latin. In fact, Thai comparatives do not tolerate the insertion of a copula verb and thus pattern with their Turkish counterparts in this respect, as can be seen from the bracketing in (38) below and for the analysis of which I have postulated the presence of a covert copula, elsewhere (cf. Hofstetter (2009)):

Tempting as the suggestion of an analogous approach to Thai might certainly look at first glance, a closer inspection of the phenomenon unfortunately reveals that the use of copula verbs in Turkish and Thai happens to be far less parallel after all, in that the lack of (overt) copulas is typical of Turkish in general (at least in the present tense) and also occurs with predicate nominals, where these are once again canonically excluded, as illustrated in (39) and (40) below:

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In contrast to this, Thai constructions featuring predicate nominals strictly disallow omission of the copula verb, as shown in the equivalent set of examples introduced in (41) and (42) below, which clearly indicates that contrary to first appearance, at the end of the day, Thai does not belong to those languages where copulas generally remain unexpressed:

Instead, I shall therefore rather assume that, at least with certain Thai adjectives in predicative use, the copula verb happens to be incorporated directly into the adjective itself, a claim also commonly found in Thai grammar books: In Anthony/French/Warotamasikkhadit (1968: 247), suung-like adjectives are referred to as “descriptive verbs”, in Baierl (1987: 14), these are called “Adjektive mit Verb-Charakter”, in Nokaeo (1991: 83f.), the author plainly talks of verbs in this context and in a similar fashion, it is stated in Iwasaki/Ingkaphirom (2005: 91) that “predicate adjectives are considered intransitive verbs” and when developing an analysis for comparison in Thai in section 4.2 below, I shall actually follow this practice, too.

Let me next consider the status and semantic contribution of the element gwaa, which, for obvious reasons, can no longer be put on a par with English exceed. In my opinion, there are two plausible options to be taken into account: This expression could either constitute the comparative marker and correspond to the -er/more morpheme in an English comparative or else, it could be the equivalent of the English preposition or conjunction than introducing the standard of comparison.10 As matters turn out, there are two arguments pointing in the latter direction: Firstly, the Thai language is generally marked by a complete lack of inflection and for the most part, it does not make use of special morphology for marking grammatical functions, either.11 Secondly, the use of gwaa is not limited to comparative constructions, but this element can also be found in sentences like (43) below, where its status as a temporal conjunction seems to be largely uncontroversial:12

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Therefore, I propose to analyse gwaa as the Thai counterpart of English than and combined with the idea of copula incorporation defended above, I arrive at the following (now complete) glosses for the standard Thai comparative specified in (2b), the fully worked-out semantic analysis of which will be given in subsection 4.2 below:

4.2 An English-Style Approach to Comparison in Thai

As a final step in my discussion of comparison constructions in the Thai language, I should ultimately like to introduce an English-like analysis for these. Doing so, I shall use the ‘standard’ account elaborated in Beck (2011, section 2.1; following von Stechow (1984)) as my starting point, where gradable adjectives and adverbs are taken to denote relations between individuals and degrees, as can be seen from the model lexical entry for suung specified in (44) below:

Both, the standard and the comparee term, then provide us with the set of degrees to which these entities possess the relevant property, respectively and in the end, the comparative operator forms and compares their maxima (cf. its lexical entry provided in (45)):

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In (2c) below, I present the Logical Form underlying the basic Thai comparative (2b), which I annotate with semantic types as well as partial calculations for ease of understandability (strike off indicating elision of identical material), yielding the denotation listed in (2d) below, which is as desired, given that this corresponds exactly to what sentence (2b) arguably means:13

(2) c. LF:

In a similar fashion, this analysis can then be extended to all other comparison constructions, so that the equative in

would for instance just require an equative operator along the lines of (46) below to give us the desired denotation of sentence (4), as specified in (47) below:14

As a last thing, observe that the application of a basic English-like analysis to comparison in Thai immediately solves all of the puzzles that have been described for the exceed-account in section three above: The translation mismatches disappear right away, because most of my informants translated gwaa by than anyway, and the ascertained syntactic inadequacies vanish in that we no longer expect to find a nominal form of the respect to which the standard and the comparee terms are compared or a preposition introducing it. Likewise, the fact that Thai features direct measure phrase constructions, degree questions and subcomparatives is not much of a surprise any more, either, since the above analysis crucially hinges on the presence of degrees, which can leave behind traces when moved and thus enable abstraction over them, which has been identified as a necessary precondition for all three constructions alike. And given that the comparison operator postulated in (45) appears in the form of a “generalised quantifier” in the sense of Heim (2001), it is of course to be expected that this element can scopally interact with an overt modal such as dtawng in (23), hence the attested ambiguities.

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5 Conclusion and Outlook

In this article, I have tried to pursue a descriptive as well as a theoretical goal. I hope to have achieved the former by presenting a concise overview of the most prominent comparison constructions found in the Thai language. As far as the latter is concerned, I have produced arguments from various domains showing that an exceed-style approach to comparison in Thai does not succeed in handling the empirical data in this language adequately and that instead, a degree-based, English-like account fares much better in this respect. Thus, on the one hand, Thai comparison has turned out to be much less ‘exotic’ than expected at the outset, but on the other, this makes comparison in Thai special and therefore all the more fascinating in that such fundamentally European patterns of comparison clearly set this language apart from other East Asian languages such as Japanese or Mandarin Chinese.

For future work within this linguistic area, it seems highly desirable to me to take a closer look at comparison constructions in other languages of the Thai-Kadai family to find out whether these show a basic European (English/Thai-like) or an Asian (Japanese/Mandarin Chinese-like) behaviour. In this context, Vietnamese would probably be of the utmost interest, given that this language is also listed among the exceed-type group of languages in Stassen (1985), even though on the surface, Vietnamese comparatives look suspiciously similar to their Thai equivalents.


Anthony, Edward Mason/French, Deborah P./Warotamasikkhadit, Udom (1968): Foundations of Thai, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Baierl, Rudolf (1987): Einführung in das Thai, Berlin: Rawiwan Baierl.

Beck, Sigrid (2011): "Comparatives and Superlatives", in: Maienborn, Claudia/Heusinger, Klaus von/Portner, Paul (eds.): Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1341-1390.

Beck, Sigrid/Krasikova, Svetlana/Fleischer, Daniel/Gergel, Remus/Hofstetter, Stefan/Savelsberg, Christiane/Vanderelst, John/Villalta, Elisabeth (2009): "Crosslinguistic Variation in Comparison Constructions", in: Craenenbroeck, Jeroen van/Rooryck, Johan (eds.): Linguistic Variation Yearbook 9, Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1-66.

Beck, Sigrid/Oda, Toshiko/Sugisaki, Koji (2004): "Parametric Variation in the Semantics of Comparison: Japanese vs. English", in: Journal of East Asian Linguistics 13, 289-344.

Bierwisch, Manfred (1989): "The Semantics of Gradation", in: Bierwisch, Manfred/Lang, Ewald (eds.): Dimensional Adjectives. Grammatical Structure and Conceptual Interpretation, Berlin: Springer, 71-261.

Bresnan, Joan (1973): "Syntax of the Comparative Clause Construction in English", in: Linguistic Inquiry 4, 275-343.

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Fox, Danny/Hackl, Martin (2006): "The Universal Density of Measurement", in: Linguistics and Philosophy 29/5, 537-586.

Gajewski, Jon (2009): "More on Quantifiers in Comparative Clauses", in: Friedman, Tova/Ito, Satoshi (eds.): Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory XVIII, Ithaca, New York: CLC Publications, 340-357.

Haspelmath, Martin (1993): "More on the Typology of Inchoative/Causative Verb Alternations", in: Comrie, Bernard/Polinsky, Maria (eds.): Causatives and Transitivity, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 87-120.

Heim, Irene (2001): "Degree Operators and Scope", in: Féry, Caroline/Sternefeld, Wolfgang (eds.): Audiatur Vox Sapientiae. A Festschrift for Armin von Stechow, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 214-239.

Hofstetter, Stefan (2009): "Comparison in Turkish: A Rediscovery of the Phrasal Comparative", in: Riester, Arndt/Solstad, Torgrim (eds.): Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 13 (= SinSpeC V), Stuttgart: Sonderforschungsbereich 732 publications, 191-205.

Iwasaki, Shoichi/Ingkaphirom, Preeya (2005): A Reference Grammar of Thai, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krasikova, Svetlana (2007): "Comparison in Chinese", in: Bonami, Olivier/Cabredo Hofherr, Patricia (eds.): Empirical Issues in Syntax and Semantics 7, Paris (online publication), 263-281.

Matthewson, Lisa (2004): "On the Methodology of Semantic Fieldwork", in: International Journal of American Linguistics 70, 369-415.

Nokaeo, Preeya (1991): Central Thai and Northern Thai: Linguistic and Attitudinal Study, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International.

Rullmann, Hotze (1995): Maximality in the Semantics of Wh-Constructions, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Stassen, Leon (1985): Comparison and Universal Grammar, Oxford: Blackwell.

Stassen, Leon (2008): "Comparative Constructions", in: Haspelmath, Martin/Dryer, Matthew S./Gil, David/Comrie, Bernard (eds.): The World Atlas of Language Structures Online, Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 121, available online at, consulted on 12th October 2013.

Stechow, Arnim von (1984): "Comparing Semantic Theories of Comparison", in: Journal of Semantics 3, 1-77.

Vanderelst, John (2009): "Norm-Relatedness in an Exceed-Type Language: The Case of Yorùbá", in: Hadermann, Pascale/Inkova, Olga (eds.): Approches de la Scalarité, Geneva: Droz, 341-362.

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* I am certainly most indebted to the assistance and incredible patience of my Thai informants, without the help of whom this study surely could not have been carried out. Many thanks also to the audience of the annual meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society held in Zurich in June 2010 and in particular to Matthias Gerner and Manfred B. Sellner for helpful and extremely encouraging advice. I am grateful too for various comments on an earlier version of this paper to Nadine Bade, Sigrid Beck, Remus Gergel, Vera Hohaus and Sonja Tiemann. Finally, I should also like to thank DTH/the AZ as well as kegra and our RC 109.

1 I am fully aware of the fact that, strictly speaking, neither Japanese nor Mandarin Chinese qualify as belonging to the same language family as Thai. Unfortunately however, these two languages are, at least as far as I am aware of, the only ones from East Asia for which a reliable database on comparison constructions is available, at present. On this issue, cf. also the suggestions for research in a future time I shall make at the very end of section five, below.

2 I include this grammaticality scale purely for the sake of completeness, here, given that in the rest of this article, I shall only be discussing perfectly impeccable example sentences that have been judged “1” in my empirical study, throughout.

3 For the time being, I shall abstain from assigning a proper English gloss to the expression gwaa and simply leave it at that, instead, because the entire analysis of Thai comparatives depends to a great deal on the exact status and the semantic contribution of precisely this lexical element, as will be shown in more detail in sections three and four below, where this issue will be taken up again.

4 Cf. Bierwisch (1989) on the precise notion of an ‘antonym’ and the respects in which such an adjective differs from a neutral or unmarked one (corresponding to a “dimensional” adjective in the terminology adopted there) as well as the references cited therein.

5 By virtue of the fact that the theoretical details of such Negative Island Effects constitute a rather complex and highly intricate issue, I cannot go into details, here, but rather limit myself to merely showing that this observation holds for Thai, too. A formal account of this phenomenon has already been sketched in von Stechow (1984: 33ff.) and fully elaborated in Rullmann (1995) and more recently, an alternative account of Negative Island Effects with an even greater empirical coverage has furthermore been offered in Fox/Hackl (2006).

6 For reasons of fairness, it must however be admitted that in view of the truly impressive overall number of languages these two authors took into account, extensive empirical studies would hardly have been feasible. Yet the aim I am pursuing for Thai, here, is a fundamentally different one, in that I should like to offer an in-depth study of comparison in one particular language, only.

7 Obviously, a single piece of negative evidence is not yet sufficient to prove the absence of a given type of construction from an entire language, given that for example the English adjective heavy does not permit a direct measure phrase construction and that English still allows for these (cf. for instance the translations in (17) and in (30) above). I therefore include the data in (30) to (35) merely for illustrative purposes and of course, the respective authors of their original sources have considered a greater number of adjectives to come up with these general claims.

8 Matthias Gerner (personal communication) has informed me that these observations could actually be valid for Mandarin Chinese only and that these do not necessarily have to hold in other Chinese languages like Cantonese or in earlier historical stages in the development of the language such as Old Chinese, where comparatives sometimes happen to be much closer in shape to the pattern attested in Thai. For lack of appropriate data, I cannot finally settle this issue, here, and must leave it as a question for future research.

9 For the sake of the argument, I suggest to analyse exceed as a transitive verb of semantic type <e,<e,t>>, which is probably the most plausible assumption to make in view of examples such as
(i) His cousin’s expenses largely exceed his income.
but up to now, this has actually never been fully elaborated, as has already been pointed out in section 3.1 above.

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10 Its exact syntactic status depends on the nature of the ensuing standard term: When followed by a nominal standard, than performs the function of a preposition, whereas it functions as a conjunction whenever it precedes a clausal standard term.

11 Admittedly, this first argument remains somewhat vague and sketchy and surely represents the weaker of the two arguments I am putting forth, here.

12 Note in passing that sentences such as (43) also represent strong additional evidence against analysing gwaa as a verb: The first clause in (43) already contains a full, lexical verb (maa (theung)) as well as a modal (ja), and moreover, gwaa appears in a sentence initial position, Thai however being of basic word order type subject-verb-object.

13 To keep the derivation as simple and straightforward as possible, I am ignoring more recent developments in syntactic research that do not directly affect the semantic calculation.

14 In view of the fact that other Thai comparison constructions can be derived in an exactly parallel fashion, I confine myself to discussing the comparative and the equative as two exemplary illustrations, here.