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Quantifiers in Natural Language: Efficient Communication and Degrees of Semantic Universals

Department of Linguistics, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
Academic Editors: Kathleen Currie Hall, Uriel Cohen Priva and Richard Futrell
Entropy 2021, 23(10), 1335; https://doi.org/10.3390/e23101335
Received: 6 August 2021 / Revised: 29 September 2021 / Accepted: 9 October 2021 / Published: 14 October 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Information-Theoretic Approaches to Explaining Linguistic Structure)
While the languages of the world vary greatly, they exhibit systematic patterns, as well. Semantic universals are restrictions on the variation in meaning exhibit cross-linguistically (e.g., that, in all languages, expressions of a certain type can only denote meanings with a certain special property). This paper pursues an efficient communication analysis to explain the presence of semantic universals in a domain of function words: quantifiers. Two experiments measure how well languages do in optimally trading off between competing pressures of simplicity and informativeness. First, we show that artificial languages which more closely resemble natural languages are more optimal. Then, we introduce information-theoretic measures of degrees of semantic universals and show that these are not correlated with optimality in a random sample of artificial languages. These results suggest both that efficient communication shapes semantic typology in both content and function word domains, as well as that semantic universals may not stand in need of independent explanation. View Full-Text
Keywords: semantic universals; efficient communication; quantifiers; monotonicity; conservativity; simplicity; informativeness; semantic typology semantic universals; efficient communication; quantifiers; monotonicity; conservativity; simplicity; informativeness; semantic typology
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MDPI and ACS Style

Steinert-Threlkeld, S. Quantifiers in Natural Language: Efficient Communication and Degrees of Semantic Universals. Entropy 2021, 23, 1335. https://doi.org/10.3390/e23101335

AMA Style

Steinert-Threlkeld S. Quantifiers in Natural Language: Efficient Communication and Degrees of Semantic Universals. Entropy. 2021; 23(10):1335. https://doi.org/10.3390/e23101335

Chicago/Turabian Style

Steinert-Threlkeld, Shane. 2021. "Quantifiers in Natural Language: Efficient Communication and Degrees of Semantic Universals" Entropy 23, no. 10: 1335. https://doi.org/10.3390/e23101335

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