Who has more? The influence of linguistic form on quantity judgments

Gregory Scontras, Kathryn Davidson, Amy Rose Deal, Sarah E. Murray


Quantity judgment tasks have been increasingly used within and across languages as a diagnostic for noun semantics. Overwhelmingly, results show that notionally atomic nouns (Who has more cats?) are counted, while notionally non-atomic nouns (Who has more milk?) are measured by volume. There are two primary outliers to the strict atomicity-tracking pattern. First, some nouns, like furniture, show primarily cardinality-based results in some studies, indicating atomicity, but nevertheless show systematic non-cardinality judgments in other studies, with comparison based instead on value/utility. Second, it has been reported that speakers of the Amazonian language Yudja favor cardinality-based quantity comparison for all nouns regardless of notional atomicity. In the current study, we show that both of these patterns arise in naïve English speakers in the absence of clear linguistic cues to atomicity, and suggest that the absence or mis-diagnosis of linguistic cues may be behind the reported outliers to atomicity-tracking.


quantity judgments; atomicity; comparison strategies; informativity; mass-count distinction

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v2i0.4097

Copyright (c) 2017 Gregory Scontras, Kathryn Davidson, Amy Rose Deal, Sarah E. Murray

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