Logic and Language

Milica Denić: Quantifier ‘most’: implicatures vs. vagueness

Speaker: Milica Denić
Title: Quantifier ‘most’: implicatures vs. vagueness
Time: 16:00 - 17:30
Location: Online, via Zoom
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Quantifying determiners ‘most’ and ‘more than half’ are standardly assumed to have the same truth-conditional meaning. There is however empirical evidence that ‘most’ is sometimes interpreted as ‘significantly more than half’ (Ariel, 2003, 2004; Solt, 2016; Ramotowska et al., 2020). Is this difference between ‘most’ and ‘more than half’ a consequence of pragmatic strengthening of ‘most’, or is the standard assumption that the two quantifiers are truth-conditionally equivalent wrong? In two recent experiments that I will present in the first part of the talk, we found that ‘most’ preserves the ‘significantly more than half’ interpretation in downward-entailing environments, which speaks against the pragmatic strengthening option.
If ‘most’ and ‘more than half’ are not truth-conditionally equivalent, what is the semantics of ‘most’? One salient possibility that would be compatible with large individual variation in the interpretation of ‘most’ (cf. Ramotowska et al. 2020) is that ‘most’ is a vague quantifier (much like ‘many’). To find out whether this is indeed the case, we are considering running two additional experiments to answer the following questions: (1) is ‘most’ (but not 'more than half’) susceptible to borderline cases? (2) is ‘most’ (but not ‘more than half’) susceptible to the sorites paradox? I'll discuss these in the second part of the talk, and I'd be really happy to hear your feedback on both the interest of running these two additional experiments, and on the methods.