Constraints on Numerical Expressions

Research output: Book/ReportBook


How does a speaker decide what to say? This can be a complex problem even in relatively simple-looking domains. In the case of numerical expressions, there are often many choices that would be semantically acceptable: if ‘more than 200’ is true, then so are ‘more than 199’, ‘more than 150’, ‘more than 100’, and so on. Intuitively, as speakers, we don’t choose among these options just arbitrarily; but nor do we consistently follow any simple heuristic. And as hearers, we’re not just interested in what the speaker literally said, but also any inferences we can draw about, for instance, the falsity or unavailability of other statements. This book presents a novel pragmatic account of the meaning and use of numerically-quantified expressions. In it, the author lays out a set of criteria that are argued individually to influence the speaker’s choice of expression. The process of choosing what to say is then treated as a problem of multiple constraint satisfaction. This approach enables multiple different considerations, drawn from principles of semantics, pragmatics, philosophy, psycholinguistics and the psychology of number, simultaneously to be integrated within a single coherent account. The constraint-based model is shown to offer novel predictions about usage, and interpretation, that are borne out experimentally and in corpus research. It also explains problematic data in numerical quantification that have previously been handled by more stipulative means. And it offers a potential line of attack for addressing the problem of the speaker’s choice in more general linguistic environments.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages212
ISBN (Electronic)9780191767326
ISBN (Print)9780199687909, 9780199687916
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2015

Publication series

NameOxford Studies in Semantics and Pragmatics
PublisherOxford University Press


  • semantics
  • pragmatics
  • constraint
  • numerical expression
  • psychology of number
  • usage
  • interpretation


Dive into the research topics of 'Constraints on Numerical Expressions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this