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

  • 1 Harvard University, MA 02138, Cambridge, USA
  • 2 ZAS (Leibniz-Center General, Linguistics
Dorothy Ahn and Uli SauerlandORCID iD: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-2175-535X

Abstract

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.

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