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The Pragmatics of Numerically Quantified Expressions

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Chris Cummins.

The semantics and pragmatics of number, and numerical expressions, has been debated in the literature for many years. The topic falls within several strands of research: anthropological studies on the emergence of number systems, work on children’s acquisition of numerical concepts, and philosophical investigation of the nature of numerical competence. Researchers aim to answer questions such as: what is the core meaning of numerals? How is this meaning interpreted in context? And how do children acquire the necessary semantic and pragmatic competence?

Recently experimental pragmatics has begun to make a contribution to this research effort. This talk focuses on the topic of numerically quantified expressions, and discusses the work recently undertaken on comparative and superlative quantifiers (those of the form ‘more than n’ and ‘at least n’ respectively, where n is a numeral). Experimental evidence is presented showing that the classical semantic treatment of these quantifiers is descriptively inadequate, and that an influential recent alternative (Geurts and Nouwen’s (2007) modal account of superlative quantifiers) is also problematic.

I conclude by discussing whether a markedness-driven pragmatic account of these phenomena could prove explanatorily adequate, and introducing a broader constraint-based account of numerical quantifier usage.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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