LINGUIST List 8.1092

Sat Jul 26 1997

Sum: quantification

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Alan R. King, Sum: quantification

Message 1: Sum: quantification

Date: Thu, 24 Jul 1997 12:42:01 -0400
From: Alan R. King <>
Subject: Sum: quantification

About four weeks ago, in LINGUIST 8.948, I asked a question on behalf
of the Basque Language Academy's grammar commission about the standard
or recommended scope of "quantifier" and "quantification" as
grammatical terms, with special reference to the function of "so many"
and "so" in sentences like:

There were SO MANY students that we needed a larger classroom. The
students were SO intelligent that we needed to get another teacher.

I wished to know whether it is considered terminologically appropriate
to say that not only "many" and "so many" but also "very" and "so"
quantify, and thus that the function of all of these (including what I
call degree modifiers) is quantification.

Better to contextualize the terminological problem that motivated the
question in the first place and to help clarify the following
report/discussion, let me suggest, ad hoc, calling the two positions
contemplated the "quantifiers VERSUS degree modifiers" position and
the "quantifiers SUBSUMING degree modifiers" position respectively; or
for short, the VERSUS position and the SUBSUMING position. It is also
only honest for me to declare at this point that my personal position
has always been and continues to be that of the VERSUS view, although
I tried to word the original question neutrally.

At this point I perhaps ought to note that several respondents seem to
prefer to treat "SO many (students)" and "SO (intelligent)" as merely
various occurrences of a single item "so" rather than treating _so
many_ as an "item" to be discussed in its own right. I view this as a
manifestation of linguistic anglocentrism: unlike English, in many
languages "so many" is NOT expressed by the item equivalent to English
"so" plus a quantifier equivalent to English "many", and since I was
not particularly asking ABOUT English in my question, I reject the
assumption that the English lexical composition of "so many" is of
crucial relevance to the issue I raised. 

Thanks to the following who responded to my question: Bruce
D. Despain, Patricia Galea, E.H. Klein-v.d.Laaken, Jan K. Lindstrom,
P. L. Peterson and Marilyn N. Silva. A summary of their answers and
suggestions follows, with an interjection of my own personal opinion
at times, identified by my initials ARK.

Marilyn Silva supports the VERSUS position, stating that "Quantifiers
determine noun phrases, not adjectives." For "very" and "so" she
prefers the term "intensifier" to my proposed "degree modifier".
Patricia Galea expresses the same views. ([ARK:] Since my original
question was not about the latter terms, I shall refrain from
defending my preference of "degree modifier" over "intensifier" in
this context; Larry Trask's _Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in
Linguistics_ treats the two terms as interchangeble.)

Marilyn Silva also discussed what I called "consecutive" sentences,
pointing out that the subordinate clauses in the two English examples
cited above, "...that we needed a larger classroom" and "...that we
needed to get another teacher", are called "adverbial clauses of
extent" in her treatment of English Grammar, _Grammar in Many Voices_
(NTC Pub. Group, 1995). She considers that here "it is the clause
that seems to quantify, not the intensifier in the main clause".

Silva went on to point out that English clauses of extent can be
licensed by a main clause containing _so_ (with or without _many_), as
above, but also by one containing _such_, as in:

George was SUCH a gentleman that he never raised his voice.

and draws our attention to the fact that _such_ could hardly be called
a quantifier.

([ARK:] This argument seems to be of general typological interest,
independently of the fact that there is no real equivalent of this use
of _such_ in Basque.) 

In all these sentences with extent clauses, Silva argues, "it is the
[subordinate] clause that seems to quantify, not the intensifier in
the main clause... which merely licenses the subordinate clause."
According to Silva, then, _so_ and _such_ should not be lumped
together with items like _many_ or _very_ in any case, in line with
the view that they do not themselves quantify but merely license a
subordinate clause which quantifies.

Looking beyond English, Jan Lindstrom pointed out that in Swedish a
single lexical item, _mycket_, functions both as a quantifier (of
nouns) meaning "much" and as a degree modifier or intensifier of
adjectives meaning "very", providing the following examples:

1) Da"r fanns mycket folk.
 'There was much people'

2) Hon a"r mycket intelligent.
 'She is very intelligent'

Lindstrom does not seem to be defending a particular terminological
usage in providing this observation, but merely wishes to offer useful
information that may be of interest in the discussion.

[ARK:] It seems to me that while the interest of this sort of
observation is undeniable, it does not obviate the need for a
terminological distinction, nor does it justify the SUBSUMES position,
but rather illustrates the need for linguists to employ a clear
meta-language to enable us to distinguish between items or uses even
where, as here, their formal expressions overlap
language-specifically. (By the way, some other instances of the use
of a single form for "very" and "much" include Portuguese _muito_,
Catalan _molt_, and Italian _molto_; but I can think of many more
languages that do not show this kind of overlap or homonymy.)

Philip Peterson wrote discussing in somewhat more abstract terms the
actual semantics of terms like "many" and "more", and referred me to
his article "Complexly Fractionated Syllogistic Quantifiers" (Journal
of Philosophical Logic, 1991, 20, 287-313). 

Bruce Despain's comments are oriented to language-specific issues of
syntactic classification of quantifiers in English that are not likely
to be relevant to a description of Basque, for which reason I shall
not report his suggestions here.

Henny Klein brought to my attention the following bibliographical

Gary, E. (1979) Extent in English. A unified account of degree and
quantity. PhD Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

In summary, none of those who responded favoured the SUBSUMING
position according to which "very" and "so" can be referred to as
quantifiers or their function as quantification (unless that was what
Jan Lindstrom wished to imply; it is my understanding that it was
not). Four of the six answers do not actually lean one way or the
other. The two answers that address my question directly and suggest
an answer, those of Silva and Galea, both constitute votes for the
VERSUS position.

Eskerrik asko denoi (Many thanks to all)

Alan R. King, Ph.D.

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