Spring 2015: Semantics for Exact-Vague Quantifiers at Szklarska Poręba Workshop

Szklarska Poręba Workshop

The 16th Workshop  on the Roots of Pragmasemantics will be held on the top of the Szrenica mountain in the Giant Mountains on the border of Poland and the Czech Republic on 20-23 February 2015. The two main themes of this year’s convention are (1) “Mental Representation of Semantic and Pragmatic Lexical Knowledge” and (2) “The Role of Linguistics in the Cognitive Sciences”.

Karolina Krzyżanowska will present our joint paper:

Exact numerals as vague quantifiers

Abstract: When we say that the population of Norway is 5 million people, we do not usually mean that there are exactly 5 million people living in this country. On the contrary, if the country happened to have a population of no more and no less than 5 million, we would need to add “exactly” to convey this information. Why do phrases like “5 million,” “two hundreds” or even, in some contexts, numerals denoting smaller numbers like “forty” tend to be interpreted as approximations (cf., e.g., Krifka 2009)? Is it only a matter of pragmatics or is the denotation of these numerals vague? Is the sentence “Norway has a population of 5 million” true if the exact number is 5,109,059? Or is it false but assertable? Drawing from recent developments in cognitive science (e.g. Dehaene 2011; Carey 2009), we will argue that our preference for vague interpretation of numerals might be due to the approximate number system (ANS) being the primary source of our mental representation of numbers, and hence using exact numerals as vague quantifiers is not only a matter of convention. ANS forms one of the core cognitive systems responsible for our representations of quantitative information. Unlike the verbal representations of discrete quantities, ANS-related representations are believed to be analouge and intrinsically imprecise. In the proposed study, we investigate how the practice of use of exact numerals as vague quantifiers correlates with the structure of ANS.

Carey, S. (2009), The Origin of Concepts, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Dehaene, S. (2011), The number sense: How the mind creates mathematics, revised and updated edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Krifka, M. (2009), Approximate interpretations of number words. the case for strategic communication, in E. Hinrichs and J. Nerbonne, eds, ‘Theory and evidence in semantics’, CSLI Publications, Stanford, pp. 109–132.