[Lingtyp] types of quantification

Martin Haspelmath martin_haspelmath at eva.mpg.de
Sun Mar 6 15:00:18 UTC 2022

On the topic of nominal quantification vs. verbal "quantification", 
again I recommend a paper by David Gil:

Gil, David. 1993. Nominal and verbal quantification. /STUF - Language 
Typology and Universals/. De Gruyter (A) 46(1–4). 275–317. 

But I don't understand what is meant by "unified linguistic concept" of 

Am 06.03.22 um 11:47 schrieb Christian Lehmann:
> This being said, I confirm that Martin understood my concern: to 
> reasonably structure (in terms of linguistic semantics) a 
> (functionally based!) chapter on quantification. Among the many useful 
> hints I obtained from the discussion, one continues to vex me: It is 
> true that 'times' may be quantified (e.g. in English /sometimes/) 
> similarly to things and persons. Does this mean that there is a 
> unified _linguistic_ concept of quantification which includes 
> events/situations (whichever you prefer)? Some of us subsume notions 
> like 'intensification', 'attenuation', 'partial completion' etc. under 
> quantification. Are there arguments from linguistic structure to 
> conclude that this is quantification (of some kind of entity) in the 
> same sense as /some of her children became professors/ involves 
> quantification (in the descriptive tradition of the last two and a 
> half millennia )?

It seems to me that grammatically, nominal quantifiers behave VERY 
differently in many languages – this is a central point of Gil (2001) 
and it was made earlier in this thread.

Verbal quantifiers are similar: They behave differently in different 
languages, but notionally or functionally, they are not different: 
"throwing twice/often" is the same as "two/many events of throwing". 
Note also that quantification can be done by quantifiers (= free forms) 
or by bound elements (clitics and affixes), both in nominal expressions 
and in verbal event expressions. A frequentative/iterative verbal affix 
is very similar to a nominal plural affix (on verbal plurality, see also 
Simone Mattiola's 2019 book on pluractional constructions).

There is a clear coding difference with cardinal numerals, though: Many 
or most languages do not have "nominal numeral classifiers", but most or 
all languages have "event numeral classifiers":

English: /on-ce, twi-ce, four times, .../
French: /une fois, deux fois, quatre fois, .../
Russian: /odna-ždy, dva-ždy, četyre raza, .../

Elements like "times/fois/raza" are not normally called "numeral 
classifiers", but they are just as empty semantically as (most) nominal 
numeral classifiers – they just serve to indicate that it's an event 
that is being enumerated, not a nominal referent. It seems that there's 
an implicational scale of the following type:

currency unit > physical object > human > event

Some languages use numeral classifiers for all of these, and some only 
for a right-hand segment of the scale. Currency units are probably the 
most likely to be counted, so they need the numerative marker less than 
other types of entities (this is based on forthcoming work by Christoph 

Thus, in line with the tradition (Bach et al. 1995, Keenan & Paperno, 
Gil, etc.), I would say that "quantification" cuts across the 
object/event distinction, also for the typological reasons given above.

(It's less clear whether /pluractionality/ should be said to be a type 
of "plurality" – there does not seem to be stability in linguists' usage.)


P.S. Note that the term "quantifier" is not transparent: A /quantifier/ 
is a free form for indicating quantity (Gil 2001: 1275), but bound forms 
that indicate quantity such as plural markers are not quantifiers. Note 
also that "quantifiers" in logic are something rather different from 
quantifiers in languages.

Martin Haspelmath
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
D-04103 Leipzig
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