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Napoleon Katsos, Tuesday October 18


Napoleon Katsos
Reader in Experimental Pragmatics
Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
University of Cambridge

We can all imagine how children learn to count: Children receive substantial training from caregivers and they start with learning ‘one’, proceeding in order of increasing cardinality (“...two, three, four…”). But what about other words of quantity such as ‘all’, ‘some’, ‘most’, or ‘none’? No-one teaches young children explicitly what these words mean or how they are used. So, what constraints the order in which children learn them?

In this presentation, I will share recent findings from a crosslinguistic investigation in the acquisition of quantity expressions (such as the English ‘all’, ‘none’, ‘some’, ‘some…not’ and ‘most’) in 31 languages, representing 11 language types, by testing 768 5-year-old children and 536 adults (Katsos, et al., 2016). We found a cross-linguistically similar order of acquisition of quantifiers, that we attempt to explain in terms of four factors relating to their meaning and use. In addition, exploratory analyses reveal that language- and learner-specific factors, such as negative concord and gender, are significant predictors of variation. 

Besides sharing the main findings, I will explore the cognitive and perceptual biases that possibly underlie the universality of the findings. The audience is very welcome to contribute ideas from their own areas of expertise.



Katsos, N., Cummins, C., Ezeizabarrena, M., Gavarró, A., Kraljević, J. K., et al. (2016).Cross-linguistic patterns in the acquisition of quantifiers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(33): 9244–9249

Where and when:
15:45-17:00 Oct 18, 2016
MPI Conference room 163
Scientific committee:
Shiri Lev-Ari
Julia Udden

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