The "the... the..." construction: Meaning and readings

Abstract : The meaning and interpretational effects of the "the. . . the. . ." construction (the comparative correlative) in English have often been ill-described. This paper examines some plausible-sounding but unwarranted semantico-pragmatic aspects that have explicitly or implicitly been suggested in the literature: (i) the construction only involves two scales, (ii) the truth of "the more. . . the more. . ." invariably allows the inference "the less. . . the less. . .", (iii) the construction conveys linear proportionality and (iv) it expresses the same kind of simple conditionality as some other types of asyndetic patterns. This paper argues that the comparative correlative conveys that if two randomly chosen entities differ with respect to one or more parameters, these entities differ correspondingly or inversely with respect to one or more other parameters. This analysis, which this paper is not the first to defend, is compared to an alternative analysis in terms of correlated differentials. New insights are offered on the relation between the comparative phrase and the clause it introduces in each half of the construction. First, the comparative phrase can sometimes be given a wide-scope, 'exophrastic' reading. Second, the scope of "the {less/fewer} (. . .)" vis-à-vis a deontic modal is exactly like that of the negator "not" in canonical sentences.
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Bert Cappelle. The "the... the..." construction: Meaning and readings. Journal of Pragmatics, Elsevier, 2011, 43 (1), pp.99-117. ⟨10.1016/j.pragma.2010.08.002⟩. ⟨halshs-00660364⟩

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