Surprisingly: Marker of Surprise Readings or Intensifier?


We investigate the influence of the adverb surprisingly on the meaning of the quantity words few and many, which themselves have been associated with a reading expressing surprise. To learn about the meaning contribution of “surprise”, we compare surprisingly with the intensifier incredibly and a compared to phrase explicitly marking surprise. Based on an empirical measure of subjects’ expectations about everyday events, a Bayesian model uses data from a sentence judgment task to infer likely levels of surprise associated with the different constructions of interest.

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