This article studies the syntax and semantics of so-called diminishers, i.e., designators of a low-level degree. More specifically, we focus on the Dutch diminishers wat ‘what’, een beetje ‘a little bit’, and ietwat ‘somewhat’. Based on the distribution of these elements, we distinguish three different types of constituents: DPs, DegPs, and QPs. Diminishers of the DP type can act as direct objects, while DegPs and QPs can be distinguished from each other in their ability to appear to the left of the article. Regarding their semantics, we show that diminishers are sensitive to the meaning—more specifically, the polarity—of the constituent they modify. They denote a point on a scale that is a small distance upward from the endpoint of that scale or—in the case of open scales—a norm proposed as desirable on that scale.
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