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6.2.6.A note on the adverbial use of the degree quantifiers

Section 6.2.5 has discussed the high/low degree quantifiers veel and weinig, and it was shown that these quantifiers share several properties with gradable adjectives. It therefore does not come as a surprise that the distribution of the forms veel and weinig is not restricted to adnominal positions; they can also be used as adverbial phrases; cf. (183). To conclude this section on quantifiers, we will briefly discuss the properties of such adverbially used quantifiers.

Example 183
a. Hij reist veel.
  he  travels  a lot
a'. Hij reist weinig.
  he  travels  little
b. Hij houdt veel van reizen.
  he  likes  much  of travel
  'He likes traveling a lot.'
b'. % Hij houdt weinig van reizen.
  he  likes  little  of travel
  'He doesnʼt like traveling a lot.'

In the (a)-examples in (183), veel and weinig are used as adverbial phrases of frequency; they express that the degree of frequency is higher or lower than some contextually determined norm. The same elements seem to function as adverbial phrases of intensity as in the (b)-examples, although some speakers seem to object to the use of weinig, and prefer the use of niet veel'not much' in this function. The difference between the two adverbial uses can be made clearer by means of the examples in (184), which show that the degree-of-frequency quantifiers are in a paradigmatic relation with frequency adverbs like vaak'often', whereas the degree of-intensity quantifiers are not.

Example 184
a. Hij reist vaak.
  he  travels  often
b. * Hij houdt vaak van reizen.
  he  likes  much  of travel

      Just like the adnominally used forms, the adverbially used forms of veel and weinig can be modified by degree modifiers like erg'very' and te'too', and they can also be the input of comparative and superlative formation.

Example 185
a. Hij reist erg veel.
  he  travels  very much
a'. Hij reist erg weinig.
  he  travels  very little
b. Hij reist meer.
  he  travels  more
b'. Hij reist minder.
  he  travels  less
c. Hij reist het meest.
  he  travels  the most
c'. Hij reist het minst.
  he  travels  the least
Example 186
a. Hij houdt erg veel van kaas.
  'He likes cheese quite a lot.'
a'. % Hij houdt erg weinig van kaas.
  'He doesnʼt like cheese a lot.'
b. Hij houdt meer van kaas dan ik.
  'He likes cheese more than I.'
b'. Hij houdt minder van kaas dan ik.
  'He likes cheese less than I.'
c. Hij houdt het meest van kaas.
  'He likes cheese the most.'
c'. Hij houdt het minst van kaas.
  'He likes cheese the least.'

      The interpretation of adverbial veel is sensitive to the semantic properties of the verb phrase with which it is construed; cf. Doetjes (1997: 126). If veel modifies a stage-level predicate like the VP headed by reizen'to travel' in (183a), a degree-of-frequency reading results; if an individual-level predicate like the VP headed by houden van'to like' in (183b) is modified by veel, a degree-of-intensity interpretation ensues. However, not all individual-level VPs are compatible with veel; mental state verbs like vertrouwen “trust”, which take an NP-complement, do not combine with veel, though they are perfectly modifiable by weinig as well as by the comparative and superlative forms of both veel and weinig. Veel is therefore unique in this regard.

Example 187
a. * Hij vertrouwt Marie veel.
  he  trusts  Marie much
a'. ? Hij vertrouwt Marie weinig.
  he  trusts  Marie  little
b. Hij vertrouwt Marie meer.
  he  trusts  Marie more
b'. Hij vertrouwt Marie minder.
  he  trusts  Marie  less
c. Hij vertrouwt Marie het meest.
  he  trusts  Marie the most
c'. Hij vertrouwt Marie het minst.
  he  trusts  Marie the least

Instead of veel, Dutch has to use one of the adverbs zeer'very' or erg'very' to express degree quantification for the individual-level verb phrase in (187a), and in the everyday vernacular niet erg'not a lot' is usually preferred to weinig in the low degree example in (187a'). The corresponding examples are given in (188).

Example 188
a. Hij vertrouwt Marie erg/zeer.
  he  trusts  Marie  much
b. Hij vertrouwt Marie niet erg.
  he  trusts  Marie  little

In the (a)-examples in (189), which involve individual-level predicates, veel/weinig and erg/niet erg alternate without any significant semantic change. However, for stage-level predicates that are compatible with both veel and erg, like hoesten'to cough' in (189), we find that there is a semantic distinction between these two modifiers: whereas veel and weinig in the (b)-examples express the degree of frequency, (niet) erg in the (c)-examples receives a purely non-quantificational, manner interpretation.

Example 189
a. Hij houdt veel/erg van reizen.
  'He likes traveling a lot.'
a'. Hij houdt weinig/niet erg van reizen.
  'He doesnʼt like traveling a lot.'
b. Hij hoest veel.
  'He coughs a lot.'
b'. Hij hoest weinig.
  'He doesnʼt cough a lot.'
c. Hij hoest erg.
  'He is coughing badly.'
c'. Hij hoest niet erg.
  'He isnʼt coughing badly.'

The contrast between (189b&c) can be replicated even more clearly in the case of adjectival predicates, as illustrated in (190); cf. Doetjes (1997: 129). While in (190a) afwezig means “not (physically) present”, the same adjective in (190b) means “absent-minded”. This reflects a difference between the stage-level and the individual-level interpretation of afwezig; veel patterns with the stage-level reading while erg teams up with the individual-level reading. Apart from showing that veel can degree-quantify adjectival predicates as well, the data in (190) once again confirm that veel has difficulty quantifying individual-level predicates.

Example 190
a. Jan is veel afwezig.
  Jan is much absent
  'Jan is often absent.'
b. Jan is erg afwezig.
  Jan is very absent
  'Jan is often absent-minded.'

      There are two points that should be stressed in connection with the contrast between stage-level and individual-level predicates. The first concerns transitivity. The examples in (183b) and (187a), repeated below as (191), seem to differ in one syntactically significant respect only: they both involve individual-level predicates, but whereas houden van'to like' selects a PP-complement, vertrouwen'to trust' takes an NP-complement.

Example 191
a. Hij houdt veel van reizen.
  he  likes  much  of travel
  'He likes traveling a lot.'
b. * Hij vertrouwt Marie veel.
  he  trusts  Marie much

Apparently, the category of the complement of the individual-level verb matters when it comes to the adverbial use of veel as a degree-of-intensity quantifier. Data confirming this conclusion are provided in (192).

Example 192
a. Hij hecht veel aan kwaliteit.
  he  attaches  much  to quality
a'. * Hij waardeert kwaliteit veel.
  he  appreciates  quality  much
b. Hij vertrouwt veel op Marie.
  he  trusts  much  on Marie
b'. * Hij vertrouwt Marie veel.
  he  trusts  Marie  much

The two primeless examples differ in that veel can readily receive the desired degree-of-intensity reading in (192a), whereas it instead receives a degree-of-frequency reading in (192b); in the latter example, the degree-of-intensity is more naturally expressed with the aid of adverbs like erg/zeer'very'. Be that as it may, the fact that no reading is available for veel in the primed examples in (192) shows that the nature of the complement is an important factor when it comes to the distribution of adverbial veel: veel is impossible if the stage-level predicate takes a nominal complement.
      It is, however, not the nature of the complement alone that regulates the adverbial distribution of veel; the individual-level/stage-level distinction is a crucial factor as well. This is evident from the fact that the transitive stage-level verbs in (193) are perfectly compatible with adverbial veel. These examples show not only that transitivity is not the crucial factor, but also that agentivity is not implicated in the dichotomy: the two examples in (193) differ with respect to agentivity but not in acceptability. That agentivity is not involved is also clear from the fact that the examples in (191b) and (193b) are both non-agentive but do contrast in acceptability.

Example 193
a. Hij kust Marie veel.
  he  kisses  Marie  much
b. Dat zie je hier veel.
  that  see  you  here  much
  'One sees that a lot around here.'
  • Doetjes, Jenny1997Quantifiers and selection: on the distribution of quantifying expressions in French, Dutch and EnglishDordrechtUniversity of LeidenThesis
  • Doetjes, Jenny1997Quantifiers and selection: on the distribution of quantifying expressions in French, Dutch and EnglishDordrechtUniversity of LeidenThesis