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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Quantifiers satisfying semantic universals are simpler


Despite wide variation among natural languages, there are linguistic properties thought to be universal to all or almost all natural languages. Here, we consider universals at the semantic level, in the domain of quantifiers, which are given by the properties of monotonicity, quantity, and conservativity. We investigate whether these universals might be explained by differences in complexity. We generate a large collection of quantifiers, based on a simple yet expressive grammar, and compute both their complexities and whether they adhere to these universal properties. We find that quantifiers satisfying semantic universals are less complex: they have a shorter minimal description length.

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