Cross-linguistic patterns in the acquisition of quantifiers

Napoleon Katsos, Christopher Cummins, Maria-José Ezeizabarrena, Anna Gavarró, Jelena Kuvač Kraljević, Gordana Hrzica, Kleanthes K. Grohmann, Athina Skordi, Kristine Jensen de López, Lone Sundahl, Angeliek van Hout, Bart Hollebrandse, Jessica Overweg, Myrthe Faber, Margreet van Koert, Nafsika Smith, Maigi Vija, Sirli Zupping, Sari Kunnari, Tiffany MorisseauManana Rusieshvili, Kazuko Yatsushiro, Anja Fengler, Spyridoula Varlokosta, Katerina Konstantzou, Shira Farby, Maria Teresa Guasti, Mirta Vernice, Reiko Okabe, Miwa Isobe, Peter Crosthwaite, Yoonjee Hong, Ingrida Balčiūnienė, Yanti Marina Ahmad Nizar, Helen Grech, Daniela Gatt, Win Nee Cheong, Arve Asbjørnsen, Janne von Koss Torkildsen, Ewa Haman, Aneta Miękisz, Natalia Gagarina, Julia Puzanova, Darinka Anđelković, Maja Savić, Smiljana Jošić, Daniela Slančová, Svetlana Kapalková, Tania Barberán, Duygu Özge, Saima Hassan, Yuet Hung Chan, Tomoya Okubo, Heather van der Lely, Uli Sauerland, Ira Noveck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Learners of most languages are faced with the task of acquiring words to talk about number and quantity. Much is known about the order of acquisition of number words as well as the cognitive and perceptual systems and cultural practices that shape it. Substantially less is known about the acquisition of quantifiers. Here, we consider the extent to which systems and practices that support number word acquisition can be applied to quantifier acquisition and conclude that the two domains are largely distinct in this respect. Consequently, we hypothesize that the acquisition of quantifiers is constrained by a set of factors related to each quantifier’s specific meaning. We investigate competence with the expressions for “all,” “none,” “some,” “some…not,” and “most” in 31 languages, representing 11 language types, by testing 768 5-y-old children and 536 adults. We found a cross-linguistically similar order of acquisition of quantifiers, explicable in terms of four factors relating to their meaning and use. In addition, exploratory analyses reveal that language- and learner-specific factors, such as negative concord and gender, are significant predictors of variation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9244–9249
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number33
Early online date1 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • language acquisition
  • universals
  • quantifiers
  • semantics
  • pragmatics


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