Superlative Quantifiers and Meta-Speech Acts

Ariel Cohen, Manfred Krifka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Recent research has shown that the superlative quantifiers at least and at most do not have the same type of truth conditions as the comparative quantifiers more than (Geurts and Nouwen, Language 83:533-559, 2007) and fewer than. We propose that superlative quantifiers are interpreted at the level of speech acts. We relate them to denegations of speech acts, as in I don't promise to come, which we analyze as excluding the speech act of a promise to come. Calling such conversational acts that affect future permissible speech acts "meta-speech acts," we introduce the meta-speech act of a GRANT of a proposition as a denial to assert the negation of that proposition. Superlative quantifiers are analyzed as quantifiers over GRANTS. Thus, John petted at least three rabbits means that the minimal number n such that the speaker GRANTs the proposition that John petted n rabbits is n = 3. We formalize this interpretation in terms of commitment states and commitment spaces, and show how the truth conditions that are derived from it are partly entailed and partly conversationally implicated. We demonstrate how the theory accounts for a wide variety of distributional phenomena of superlative quantifiers, including the contexts in which they can be embedded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-90
Number of pages50
JournalLinguistics and Philosophy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • At least
  • At most
  • Commitment development spaces
  • Conversational implicature
  • Denegation
  • Embedded speech acts
  • Meta speech acts
  • Speech acts
  • Superlative quantifiers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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