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The ability to convey meaning is a fundamental property of human language. Three main aspects, in particular, have drawn the attention of linguists: semantic meaning, that is, the content that is conventionally associated with words; pragmatic meaning, that is, the integration of semantic meaning with information from the communicative context in which a sentence is used; and social meaning (Eckert 2008), the package of stances, socio/psychological features and stereotypes that linguistic forms index about the speakers who typically use them. This dissertation aims to cast light on the interaction between these components by looking at two intensifiers that cut across all such domains of meaning: “totally” in English and “-issimo” in Italian. In the first part of the dissertation, I provide a formal analysis of the semantic and pragmatic meaning of these two intensifiers, modeling the compositional mechanisms whereby both intensifiers combine with either scales lexicalized by their argument (e.g. "totally full") or provided by the pragmatic context (e.g. "we totally went to the party"). I then rely on a social perception task to argue that the social meaning of both intensifiers is significantly more prominent when the target scale is not lexicalized in the surrounding linguistic context. Concerning the principles driving this connection, I suggest that two factors make “-issimo” and “totally” suitable candidates to carry social meaning. First, the semantic meaning of both expressions, via different routes, presupposes and fosters a heightened degree of proximity between the speaker and the hearer at the pragmatic level, which renders these expressions particularly apt for being reinterpreted as indexes of social characteristics. Second, both the non-lexical uses of “totally” and “-issimo” are linguistically marked with respect to their lexical counterparts, where markedness emerges in different ways depending on the particular intensifier. Their marked status, in turn, makes the these intensifiers stand out as particularly noticeable, creating an effect of surprise and unexpectedness that amplifies the social meaning of the expression in a similar fashion to what has been observed for linguistic forms in the domain of phonological and morphosyntactic variation (e.g., Bender 2000; Podesva 2011).


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