The processing of polar quantifiers, and numerosity perception

Isabelle Deschamps, Galit Agmon, Yonatan Loewenstein, Yosef Grodzinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


We investigated the course of language processing in the context of a verification task that required numerical estimation and comparison. Participants listened to sentences with complex quantifiers that contrasted in Polarity, a logical property (e.g., more-than-half, less-than-half), and then performed speeded verification on visual scenarios that displayed a proportion between 2 discrete quantities. We varied systematically not only the sentences, but also the visual materials, in order to study their effect on the verification process. Next, we used the same visual scenarios with analogous non-verbal probes that featured arithmetical inequality symbols (<, >). This manipulation enabled us to measure not only Polarity effects, but also, to compare the effect of different probe types (linguistic, non-linguistic) on processing.Like many previous studies, our results demonstrate that perceptual difficulty affects error rate and reaction time in keeping with Weber's Law. Interestingly, these performance parameters are also affected by the Polarity of the quantifiers used, despite the fact that sentences had the exact same meaning, sentence structure, number of words, syllables, and temporal structure. Moreover, an analogous contrast between the non-linguistic probes (<, >) had no effect on performance. Finally, we observed no interaction between performance parameters governed by Weber's Law and those affected by Polarity. We consider 4 possible accounts of the results (syntactic, semantic, pragmatic, frequency-based), and discuss their relative merit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-128
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Oct 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Supported by an Insight Grant from SSHRC, a grant from Canada Research Chairs , and a grant from ELSC , HUJI (Y.G.), and by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Y.L.). We thank 3 Cognition reviewers, Klaus Abels, Ayelet Beazley, Assaf Breska, Svenja Caspers, Emmanuel Chemla, Luka Crnič, Leon Deouell, Danny Fox, Martin Hackl, Stefan Heim, Virginia Jaichenco, Marie-Christine Meyer, Eli Nelken, Bernhard Schwarz, Michael Wagner, and audiences at the Hebrew University, MIT, UCL, Tsinghua University and the 2012 McGill-Jülich Dialogue, and the 2014 McGill-MIT Dialogue for helpful comments and suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Language processing
  • Monotonicity
  • Natural language quantifiers
  • Numerical cognition
  • Polarity
  • Verification algorithms
  • Weber's Law


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