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Proportional implies relative: A typological universal

Conference paper
Authors Elizabeth Coppock
Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten
Golsa Nouri-Hosseini
Saskia Stiefeling
Published in Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, vol.2, Austin, Texas, January 5-8, 2017 / Editor: Patrick Farrell
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v2i0.4053
Keywords superlatives; quantity words; proportional quantifiers
Subject categories Linguistics

Abstract

We give evidence from a geographically, genetically, and typologically diverse set of languages (drawn from 26 different language families and every continent) for the following typological universal: Regardless of the morphosyntactic strategy used by a language to form superlatives, if superlative morphosyntax can be applied to 'much' or 'many', then the result can be used to express a relative reading (as in Hillary has visited the most continents (out of everyone)) but not necessarily a proportional reading (as in 'Hillary has visited most of the continents'). Thus, no language deploys the regular superlative of 'much'/'many' for the proportional but not the relative reading. We also give a rough estimate of how rare proportional readings for quantity superlatives are: about 10%. Nevertheless, we show that proportional readings arise with a diverse set of strategies for forming superlatives.

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