Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 11, 2017

Measure constructions with relative measures: Towards a syntax of non-conservative construals

  • Dorothy Ahn EMAIL logo and Uli Sauerland ORCID logo EMAIL logo
From the journal The Linguistic Review


Relative measures such as percent and thirds relate one quantity to another. We observe that, in several languages, determiner phrases containing relative measures can express two distinct construals: (1) The ‘conservative’ construal in The company hired 75 % of the women considers the ratio of the company’s female hires to all women. (2) The ‘non-conservative construal’ in The company hired 75 % women is instead concerned with the ratio of the company’s female hires to all the company’s hires. We show that other languages that distinguish the two construals using morphosyntactic means include German, Korean, Georgian, Greek, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Romanian. We argue that the non-conservative construal involves a different constituency of the measure construction. Both construals, however, derive from a structure where the measure structure forms a single DP. Therefore, our analysis of the non-conservative structures makes an argument that the Conservativity Universal may apply at an abstract level of structure rather than at the surface level.

Funding statement: This work was supported in part by BMBF Grant No. 01UG1411 and DFG grant SA 925/11-1.


We are grateful to the Artemis Alexiadou, Stephanie Solt, and two anonymous reviewers for their contributions to this version of our paper, and Gennaro Chierchia, and Kazuko Yatsushiro, for helpful comments throughout the duration of the project leading up to this paper. We remain grateful to all the others mentioned in the acknowledgments of our 2016 papers (Ahn & Sauerland 2015a, b), especially the audiences at GLOW 38 at the University of Paris, and our consultants for particular languages: Silvia Darteni and Fabrizio Arosio (Italian), Ekaterine Egutia (Georgian), Benjamin Spector, Laurence B-Violette, Aurore Gonzalez (French), Andreea Nicolae (Rumanian), Suzi Lima (Brazilian Portuguese), Hongyuan Sun, C.-T. James Huang, and Edwin Tsai (Mandarin).


Ahn, Dorothy. 2012. Reverse quantification in Korean. Term paper, Harvard University.Search in Google Scholar

Ahn, Dorothy & Uli Sauerland. 2015a. Non-conservative quantification with proportional quantifiers: Crosslinguistic data. In Thuy Bui & Deniz Ozyildiz (eds.), Proceedings of NELS 45, Amherst, MA: GLSA, University of Massachusetts.Search in Google Scholar

Ahn, Dorothy & Uli Sauerland. 2015b. The grammar of relative measurement. Semantics and Linguistic Theory 25. 125–142.10.3765/salt.v25i0.3062Search in Google Scholar

Aoun, Joseph & Yen-hui Audrey Li. 1993. Syntax of scope. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Barwise, Jon & Robin Cooper. 1981. Generalized quantifiers and natural language. Linguistics and Philosophy 4. 159–219.10.1007/BF00350139Search in Google Scholar

Beck, Sigrid & Shin-sook Kim. 1997. On wh- and operator scope in Korean. Journal of East Asian Linguistics 6. 339–384.10.1023/A:1008280026102Search in Google Scholar

Bobaljik, Jonathan David & Susi Wurmbrand. 2012. Word order and scope: Transparent interfaces and the 3/4 signature. Linguistic Inquiry 43. 371–421.10.1162/LING_a_00094Search in Google Scholar

Cheng, Lisa L-S & Rint Sybesma. 2009. De as an underspecified classifier: First explorations. Yuyánxué lùncóng 39. 123–156.Search in Google Scholar

Chierchia, Gennaro. 1998. Reference to kinds across languages. Natural Language Semantics 6. 339–405.10.1023/A:1008324218506Search in Google Scholar

Choe, Hyon Sook. 2009. On left-branch extraction (lbe) and left-branch condition (lbc) effects. Proceedings from the Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society 45(2). 27–42. Chicago Linguistic Society.Search in Google Scholar

Chomsky, Noam. 2013. Problems of projection. Lingua 130. 33–49.10.1016/j.lingua.2012.12.003Search in Google Scholar

Diesing, Molly. 1992. Indefinites. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Doetjes, Jenny Sandra. 1997. Quantifiers and selection. Leiden, Netherlands: University of Leiden dissertation. in Google Scholar

Fortuny, Jordi. 2016. The witness set constraint. Journal of Semantics doi:10.1093/jos/ffw009.Search in Google Scholar

Fox, Danny. 2002. Antecedent contained deletion and the copy theory of movement. Linguistic Inquiry 33. 63–96.10.1162/002438902317382189Search in Google Scholar

Fox, Danny & Kyle Johnson. 2016. QR is restrictor sharing. In Proceedings of WCCFL 33. 1–16.Search in Google Scholar

Grestenberger, Laura. 2015. Number marking in German measure phrases and the structure of pseudo-partitives. The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 18. 1–46.10.1007/s10828-015-9074-1Search in Google Scholar

Grimshaw, Jane. 1990. Argument structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hankamer, Jorge & Line Mikkelsen. 2008. Definiteness marking and the structure of Danish pseudopartitives. Journal of Linguistics 44(2). 317–346.10.1017/S0022226708005148Search in Google Scholar

Ionin, Tania, Ora Matushansky & Eddy G. Ruys. 2006. Parts of speech: Toward a unified semantics for partitives. Proceedings of NELS 36. 357–370.Search in Google Scholar

Jespersen, Otto. 1927. The philosophy of grammar. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar

Keenan, Edward L. & Jonathan Stavi. 1986. A semantic characterization of natural language determiners. Linguistics and Philosophy 9. 253–326.10.1007/BF00630273Search in Google Scholar

Kim, Sun-Woong. 2011. A note on NP/DP parameter: Left branch extraction in Korean. Linguistic Research 28. 257–269.10.17250/khisli.28.2.201108.001Search in Google Scholar

Ko, Heejeong. 2005. Syntactic edges and linearization. Massachusetts Institute of Technology dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Krifka, Manfred. 1989a Nominal reference, temporal constitution and quantification in event semantics. In Renate Bartsch et al. (eds.), Semantics and contextual expressions, Dordrecht, Netherlands: Foris. 75–116.Search in Google Scholar

Krifka, Manfred. 1989b. Nominalreferenz und Zeitkonstitution. Munich, Germany: W. Fink.Search in Google Scholar

Ladusaw, Bill. 1982. Semantic constraints on the English partitive construction. In Daniel P. Flickinger, Marlys Macken & Nancy Wiegand (eds.), Proceedings of WCCFL 1, 231–242. Stanford, CA: CSLI, Stanford University.Search in Google Scholar

Li, Haoze. 2016. Event-related relative measurements. Presentation at Sinn und Bedeutung 21, University of Edinburgh.Search in Google Scholar

Ott, Dennis. 2012. Local instability: Split topicalization and quantifier float in German. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter.10.1515/9783110290950Search in Google Scholar

Ott, Dennis. 2015. Symmetric merge and local instability: Evidence from split topics. Syntax 18(2). 157–200.10.1111/synt.12027Search in Google Scholar

Park, Yugyeong. 2007. A study on the semantic characteristics of the proportional quantifier floating in Korean. Seoul: Korea Seoul National University MA thesis. in Google Scholar

Partee, Barbara. 1987. Noun phrase interpretation and type shifting principles. In Geroen Groenendijk, Dik De Jongh & Martin Stokhof (eds.), Studies in discourse representation and the theory of generalized quantifiers, 115–143. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Foris.10.1515/9783112420027-006Search in Google Scholar

Romoli, Jacopo. 2015. A structural account of conservativity. Semantics-Syntax Interface 2(1). 28–57.Search in Google Scholar

Rooth, Mats. 1992. A theory of focus interpretation. Natural Language Semantics 1. 75–116.10.1007/BF02342617Search in Google Scholar

Rooth, Mats. 1995. Indefinites, adverbs of quantification, and focus semantics. In Gregory N. Carlson & Francis Jeffrey Pelletier (eds.), The generic book, chap. 6, 265–299. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar

Rothstein, Susan. 2009. Individuating and measure readings of classifier constructions: Evidence from Modern Hebrew. Brill’s Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics 1(1). 106–145.10.1163/187666309X12491131130783Search in Google Scholar

Sauerland, Uli. 1998. The meaning of chains. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Sauerland, Uli. 2004. The interpretation of traces. Natural Language Semantics 12. 63–127.10.1023/B:NALS.0000011201.91994.4fSearch in Google Scholar

Sauerland, Uli. 2014. Surface non-conservativity in German. In Christopher Piñón (ed.), Empirical issues in syntax and semantics 10, 125–142. CSSP Paris. in Google Scholar

Sauerland, Uli & Oliver Bott. 2002. Prosody and scope in German inverse linking constructions. In Speech Prosody, 623–626.Search in Google Scholar

Schwarzschild, Roger. 2006. The role of dimensions in the syntax of noun phrases. Syntax 9(1). 67–110.10.1111/j.1467-9612.2006.00083.xSearch in Google Scholar

Scontras, Gregory. to appear. Measure phrases. Semantics Companion.Search in Google Scholar

Selkirk, Lisa. 1977. Some remarks on noun phrase structure. In P. Culicover, T. Wasow & A. Akmajian (eds.), Studies in formal syntax, 285–316. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Solt, Stephanie. 2016. Proportional comparatives and relative scales. Presentation at Sinn und Bedeutung 21, University of Edinburgh.Search in Google Scholar

Spector, Benjamin. 2013. Bare numerals and scalar implicatures. Language and Linguistics Compass 7(5). 273–294.10.1111/lnc3.12018Search in Google Scholar

Stanley, Jason & Zoltan G. Szabo. 2000. On quantifier domain restriction. Mind & Language 15. 219–261.10.1111/1468-0017.00130Search in Google Scholar

Takahashi, Shoichi & Sarah Hulsey. 2009. Wholesale Late Merger: Beyond the A/A-bar distinction. Linguistic Inquiry 40. 387–426.10.1162/ling.2009.40.3.387Search in Google Scholar

Von Fintel, Kai. 2016. A problem with Fortuny’s witness set constraint. Semanticsarchive (submitted to Journal of Semantics).Search in Google Scholar

Yang, Byong-seon. 1991. Diagnostics for Unaccusativity in Korean: State University of New York at Buffalo dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2017-5-11
Published in Print: 2017-10-26

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 24.9.2023 from
Scroll to top button