Proportional implies relative: A typological universal
Keywords:superlatives, quantity words, proportional quantifiers
We give evidence from a geographically, genetically, and typologically diverse set of languages (drawn from 26 different language families and every continent) for the following typological universal: Regardless of the morphosyntactic strategy used by a language to form superlatives, if superlative morphosyntax can be applied to 'much' or 'many', then the result can be used to express a relative reading (as in Hillary has visited the most continents (out of everyone)) but not necessarily a proportional reading (as in 'Hillary has visited most of the continents'). Thus, no language deploys the regular superlative of 'much'/'many' for the proportional but not the relative reading. We also give a rough estimate of how rare proportional readings for quantity superlatives are: about 10%. Nevertheless, we show that proportional readings arise with a diverse set of strategies for forming superlatives.
Published by the LSA with permission of the author(s) under a CC BY 4.0 license.