Cross-linguistic patterns in the acquisition of quantifiers

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

41 Scopus Citations
View graph of relations



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9244-9249
Journal / PublicationProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
Online published1 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2016


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 languageand learner-specific factors, such as negative concord and gender, are significant predictors of variation.

Research Area(s)

  • Language acquisition, Pragmatics, Quantifiers, Semantics, Universals

Citation Format(s)