Relative Readings of Many, Often, and Generics

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Abstract

In addition to the familiar cardinal and proportional readings of many and few, there is yet another interpretation, the relative proportional reading. This reading, unlike the ordinary absolute proportional reading, is not conservative. Under the relative reading, 'Many ψs are φs' is true just in case the proportion of φs among ψs is greater than the proportion of φs among members of contextually given alternatives to ψ. I provide a definition of proportional readings that reduces the differences between absolute and relative interpretations to the value of a single parameter. I argue that relative readings are not restricted to many and few, but are also exhibited by the adverbs often and seldom, and by generics. Interpretations of determiners that have been treated as "focus - affected readings," interpretations of adverbs of quantification that have been treated as "pure frequency readings," and interpretations of generics which have been claimed to be cases of "reverse interpretation" or "direct kind predication" are, in fact, instances of relative readings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-67
Number of pages27
JournalNatural Language Semantics
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2001

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