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date: 16 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

In linguistics, the study of quantity is concerned with the behavior of expressions that refer to amounts in terms of the internal structure of objects and events, their spatial or temporal extension (as duration and boundedness), their qualifying properties, as well as how these aspects interact with each other and other linguistic phenomena.

Quantity is primarily manifest in language for the lexical categories of noun, verb, and adjective/ adverb. For instance, the distinction between mass and count nouns is essentially quantitative: it indicates how nominal denotation is quantized—as substance (e.g., water, sand) or as an atomic individual (e.g., book, boy). Similarly, the aspectual classes of verbs, such as states (know), activities (run), accomplishments (drown), achievements (notice), and semelfactives (knock) represent quantitatively different types of events. Adjectives and adverbs may lexically express quantities in relation to individuals, respectively, events (e.g., little, enough, much, often), and one might argue that numerals (two, twenty) are intrinsic quantitative expressions.

Quantitative derivation refers to the use of derivational affixes to encode quantity in language. For instance, the English suffix -ful attaches to a noun N1 to derive another noun N2, such that N2 denotes the quantity that fits in the container denoted by N1. N2 also employs a special use in quantitative constructions: see handa handful of berries.

The challenge for the linguistic description of quantity is that it often combines with other linguistic notions such as evaluation, intensification, quality, and it does not have a specific unitary realization—it is usually auxiliary on other more established notions. Quantitative affixes either have limited productivity or their primary use is for other semantic notions. For instance, the German suffix ‑schaft typically forms abstract nouns as in Vaterschaft ‘fatherhood’, but has a (quantity-related) collective meaning in Lehrerschaft ‘lecturer staff’; compare English -hood in childhood and the collective neighborhood. This diversity makes quantity difficult to capture systematically, in spite of its pervasiveness as a semantic notion.

Keywords: quantitative affixes, pluractionality, collectives, derivation, inflection

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