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Grammar of Numerals And The Number Line

Wednesday 7 December 2016
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden


Numerals can be grammatically sensitive to the quantity that the numeral refers to: ordinal suppletion (‘first’ rather than ‘one-th') is restricted to low numbers (Veselinova 1998); it’s often the case (in Russian, for instance) that cardinals referring to ‘1’ and ‘2’ agree in gender with their noun, while higher cardinals don’t; in many languages, the cardinal referring to ‘1’ is grammatically different from the rest of the cardinals — in Hebrew, the word for ‘1’ follows the noun while all other cardinals precede it (Borer 2005).

Some facts like these, reflecting grammatical splits on the number line, have been noted in linguistic literature but a systematic cross-linguistic picture is still missing. Where on the number line do these splits happen more often? Is ‘1 vs. the rest’ split more common than ‘1, 2, 3 vs. the rest’? Are there splits above 4? Are there interdependencies between splits (say, if a construction has no split after 1, it has no higher splits either)? These kinds of generalisations are relevant for theories of number cognition, suggesting a fundamental cognitive split around 4. I will report some findings of a typological study that aims to answer these questions (part of the 'Language and Number' project, a branch of NWO Horizon project 'Knowledge and Culture’).


Leiden Utrecht Semantics Happenings (LUSH) is a series of monthly lectures on semantics, alternating between Leiden and Utrecht. For more information see http://lushtalks.wordpress.com/


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