The Formal Semantics of Proportional Quantification in Dutch and English

Researcher: Koen Roelandt
Funding: BOF
Applicants: Prof. Dr. Dany Jaspers (KU Leuven HUBrussel) and Prof. Dr. Hans Smessaert (KU Leuven)

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This project focuses on proportional quantificational expressions of the type illustrated in (1):

    1. De meeste Amerikanen stemden voor Obama
      Most Americans voted for Obama
    2. Meer dan de helft van de Amerikanen stemden voor Obama
      More-than-the-half- of-the-Americans-voted-for-Obama
      More than half of the Americans voted for Obama
    3. Een/de (overgrote) meerderheid van de Amerikanen stemden voor Obama
      A/the (vast) majority of Americans voted for Obama
    4. Een/?de (kleine) minderheid van de Amerikanen stemden voor Obama A/The-(small)-minority-of-the-Americans-voted-for-Obama
      A/the (small) minority of Americans voted for Obama

In order to evaluate the truth of these sentences, one needs to know the cardinality of two sets: on the one hand, the number of Americans qualified to vote; on the other, the cardinality of a subset of that first set, viz. the number of Obama-voting Americans. It is the relative size of the subset (the Obama-voters) with respect to the superset (all American voters) that will determine the truth or falsity of the above sentences. For so-called absolute quantifiers (e.g. all, some, at least 10 million) no such cardinality comparison between two sets is necessary.

While there is a sizeable body of semantic and pragmatic literature for English constructions containing such expressions of proportional quantification as in (1a) and (1b), there is little for (1c) and (1d) and for Dutch proportional quantifiers in general. In view of that situation the aim of this project is to fill those gaps and offer a formal analysis for all the expressions listed in (1). The main research question can be formulated as follows:

Q1: What is the proper characterization and formalization of the meaning of the Dutch proportional quantifiers “de meeste/{een/de} meerderheid/{een/de} minderheid/meer dan de helft” and of their English counterparts “most/{a/the} majority/{a/the} minority/more than half”?