An academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics at Stockholm University by Pernilla Hallonsten Halling was publicly defended on Friday 13 April 2018 at 13:00 in Hörsal 7, Hus D, Universitetsvägen 10D.

Download the thesis from DiVA (Academic Archive On-line)


The notion adverb is often treated as encompassing leftover items in a class that shows little consistency both within and ​across languages. Adverbs are less frequent than other parts of speech cross-linguistically, they seldom inflect, and they are rarely used as a source for derivation to other categories.

This dissertation focuses on adverbs that denote properties and that can be used as modifiers within predicating expressions. The adverbs in this group are roughly equivalent to the traditional manner adverbs (She walked slowly). In their role as modifiers, these adverbs are parallel to attributive adjectives, which also denote properties, and are modifiers in referring expressions (slow train). Adjectives often also occur in the predicative function (The train is slow). This study compares adverbs to attributive and predicative adjectives in a sample of 60 genealogically diverse languages from around the world. Simple adverbs are attested in the majority of these languages, including in some languages that do not have simple adjectives. The comparison with attributive and predicative adjectives is carried out at three levels of encoding: the root, the lexeme, and the construction. The analysis shows that a great majority of languages have the same root encoding for adverbs, attributive adjectives, and predicative adjectives. Many languages have a class of lexemes that are used in the functions of both adverbs and attributive adjectives, here called general modifiers. On the construction level, where constructions are analyzed in their entirety, important encoding similarities between adverbs and predicative adjectives are unraveled. In a few languages, adverbs and attributive adjectives are encoded by the same or similar constructions.

The attested simple adverbs and general modifiers both fall into certain characteristic semantic types. For simple adverbs, a core type is SPEED, which is found among the adverbs of most sample languages. The types VALUE, CARE, and NOISE are also found among the simple adverbs of several languages. For general modifiers, VALUE appears as a core type. These semantic types are further attested in tendencies of adverb lexicalization and in adverbial affixation across languages.

This dissertation shows that adverbs constitute a cross-linguistically prototypical part of speech, although they differ in many ways from other categories. The basis for this class, just as for adjectives, is the presence of simple lexemes that tend to have similar semantics in unrelated and geographically distant languages. Adverbs are thus conceptually no less basic than adjectives.

Keywords: adverbs, adjectives, parts of speech, prototypes, categorization, modification, constructions.

Professor Martin Haspelmath, Universität Leipzig, Germany

Thesis committee:
Professor Johan van der Auwera, University of Antwerp, Belgium
Professor Åshild Naess, University of Oslo, Norway
Associate Professor Ljuba Veselinova, Stockholm University
Associate Professor Jan Svanlund (Stockholm University, alternate member)

Professor Bernhard Wälchli, Stockholm University
Professor Tomas Riad, Stockholm University