The logic in language: How all quantifiers are alike, but each quantifier is different

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The logic in language: How all quantifiers are alike, but each quantifier is different

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Title: The logic in language: How all quantifiers are alike, but each quantifier is different
Author: Feiman, Roman; Snedeker, Jesse

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Citation: Feiman, Roman, and Jesse Snedeker. 2016. “The Logic in Language: How All Quantifiers Are Alike, but Each Quantifier Is Different.” Cognitive Psychology 87 (June): 29–52. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2016.04.002.
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Abstract: Quantifier words like EACH, EVERY, ALL and THREE are among the most abstract words in language. Unlike nouns, verbs and adjectives, the meanings of quantifiers are not related to a referent out in the world. Rather, quantifiers specify what relationships hold between the sets of entities, events and properties denoted by other words. When two quantifiers are in the same clause, they create a systematic ambiguity. ‘‘Every kid climbed a tree” could mean that there was only one tree, climbed by all, or many different trees, one per climbing kid. In the present study, participants chose a picture to indicate their preferred reading of different ambiguous sentences – those containing EVERY, as well as the other three quantifiers. In Experiment 1, we found large systematic differences in preference, depending on the quantifier word. In Experiment 2, we then manipulated the choice of a particular reading of one sentence, and tested how this affected participants’ reading preference on a subsequent target sentence. We found a priming effect for all quantifiers, but only when the prime and target sentences contained the same quantifier. For example, ALL-A sentences prime other ALL-A sentences, while EACH-A primes EACH-A, but sentences with EACH do not prime sentences with ALL or vice versa. In Experiment 3, we ask whether the lack of priming across quantifiers could be due to the two sentences sharing one fewer word. We find that changing the verb between the prime and target sentence does not reduce the priming effect. In Experiment 4, we discover one case where there is priming across quantifiers – when one number (e.g. THREE) is in the prime, and a different one (e.g. FOUR) is in the target. We discuss how these findings relate to linguistic theories of quantifier meaning and what they tell us about the division of labor between conceptual content and combinatorial semantics, as well as the mental representations of quantification and of the abstract logical structure of language.
Published Version: doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2016.04.002
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