Why is A Few Sometimes A Lot?

Abstract

It is not surprising to find that the quantity picked out by terms like a few and a lot is context dependent. We can easily accept that a few books might be 10 books, yet a lot of smartphones might only be 4 smartphones. The current paper posits that there are two hypotheses that can explain can explain this context dependency: the Definite Number Hypothesis (DNH), and the Gradable Quantifier Hypothesis (GQH). The DNH suggests that the term a few corresponds to a definite range of values, and may pick out a larger quantity only if the range seems implausible for the given context. The GQH suggests that context-dependency is actually built into the meaning of a few. Experiment 1 supports the intuition that there is variability in the quantity that a few picks out based on context. The findings of Experiments 2 and 3 support the Gradable Quantifier Hypothesis.


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