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Auteur: Patricia AMARAL

“Smart as a fox”: Scalar negation and comparative constructions in Brazilian Portuguese

Abstract/Résumé: This paper focuses on the role of negation in the semantic change undergone by the expression "que nem" in Brazilian Portuguese, from the sequence que (Complementizer) + nem (negative scalar adverb) followed by a minimizer, in (1), to a grammaticalized standard of comparison marker used in generic equative and similative constructions, in (2) and (3), respectively. I show how the discourse-pragmatic function of intensification achieved through scalar negation shaped this development, showing a combination of factors at the interface of discourse, pragmatics and syntax. (1) diz que nem um prez nom val (13th century) ‘(He) says that (it) is worth no value’ (2) Ele é esperto que nem raposa. ‘He is (as) smart as a fox. (= he is smart to the same extent as a fox typically is)’ (3) O moleque saltou que nem eu. ‘The boy jumped like me. (= he jumped in the same manner as I did)’ In (2), "que nem" is the standard marker introducing the standard of comparison, and ‘fox’ is the standard (terms from Haspelmath and Buchholz (1998)). In generic equatives, the standard refers to a class that “possesses the property in question to a highly salient degree” (Haspelmath and Buchholz 1998: 309). In (3), the similarity expressed doesn’t necessarily rely on the high degree of a property, since "que nem" may be used as a general comparison marker in contemporary Brazilian Portuguese. I analyze the grammaticalization of "que nem" in the context of constructions that express the high degree of a property and trigger an inferential reasoning based on a pragmatic scale of propositions (along the lines of Fauconnier 1975). This pragmatic reasoning underlies the comparative interpretation that the construction acquires (Álvarez 1999). From a mere adjacent sequence in (1), "que nem" becomes a unit, specifically a grammaticalized comparative marker. Although the negative meaning of the scalar adverb "nem" is lost in the comparative form in (2) and (3), the pragmatic role of scalar negation underlies the diachronic fate of the form. This study has broader theoretical implications both for the field of grammaticalization and for the study of the semantic and pragmatic domain of comparatives.