ROSE: The semantics and pragmatics of range markers across and throughout languages



Specific Programme European Research Council

Project acronym: ROSE

Principal Investigator: dr. R.W.F. Nouwen

Host Institution: Utrecht University

Summary — Most languages have a fairly well developed system of words for numbers, called numerals. It is cross-linguistically common, moreover, for languages to have a very rich paradigm of modifiers of such numerals. For instance, English allows the numeral “fifty” to be modified by comparatives (“more than fifty”), superlatives (“at least fifty”), equatives (“as many as fifty”), differential comparatives (“no more than fifty”), locative prepositions (“over fifty”), directional prepositions (“up to fifty”), disjunctions (“fifty or more”) and adverbs (“exactly fifty”). As is illustrated by the set of English modifiers, typically, such paradigms do not consist of specialised vocabulary but instead consist of expressions ‘borrowed’ from other areas of the grammar. This project sets out to use the rich vocabulary of modified numerals to make advances in semantics and pragmatics. The idea is that the modified numeral paradigms allow us to discover semantic mechanisms shared by different areas of the grammar. In particular, we will look at a subset of modified numerals that have restrictions on their use, restrictions that may be obviated in specific contexts. Some modifiers, such as e.g. adverbial superlatives and directional prepositions, display the same restriction and obviation pattern. Such connections are a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the phenomena involved (e.g. superlativity and spatial expression), but more importantly it clarifies the nature of numerical, and more generally scalar, quantification. This is very welcome, since there is a surprising lack of insight in how we use numerical expressions to convey quantitative information. In particular, there is no consensus on what semantic and pragmatic processes govern the relatively simple meanings conveyed by sentences containing modified numerals and similarly scalar expressions. What is needed right now to break through this standstill is an effort to uncover hitherto unexplored connections within language. This project recognises that without access to large bodies of new and reliable data, there can be no significant theoretical progress: considerable empirical progress is essential to bring about a theoretical leap. To this end, the project includes in- depth cross-linguistic and experimental studies.