Cross-linguistic patterns in the acquisition of quantifiers

Napoleon Katsos, Chris Cummins, Maria José Ezeizabarrena, Anna Gavarró, Jelena KuvǍc Kraljević, Gordana Hrzica, Kleanthes K. Grohmann, Athina Skordi, Kristine Jensen De López, Lone Sundahl, Angeliek Van Hout, Bart Hollebrandse, Jessica Overweg, Myrthe Faber, Margreet Van Koert, Nafsika Smith, Maigi Vija, Sirli Zupping, Sari Kunnari, Tiffany MorisseauManana Rusieshvili, Kazuko Yatsushiro, Anja Fengler, Spyridoula Varlokosta, Katerina Konstantzou, Shira Farby, Maria Teresa Guasti, Mirta Vernice, Reiko Okabe, Miwa Isobe, Peter Crosthwaite, Yoonjee Hong, Ingrida BalČiuniene, Yanti Marina Ahmad Nizar, Helen Grech, Daniela Gatt, Win Nee Cheong, Arve Asbjørnsen, Janne Koss Von Torkildsen, Ewa Haman, Aneta Miȩkisz, Natalia Gagarina, Julia Puzanova, Darinka Andelković, Maja Savić, Smiljana Jošić, Daniela Slaňcová, Svetlana Kapalková, Tania Barberán, Duygu Özge, Saima Hassan, Cecilia Yuet Hung Chan, Tomoya Okubo, Heather Van Der Lely, Uli Sauerland, Ira Noveck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9244-9249
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2016


  • Language acquisition
  • Pragmatics
  • Quantifiers
  • Semantics
  • Universals


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