A few or several? Construal, quantity, and argumentativity

Nicole Katzir*, Mira Ariel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This study examines two seemingly similar quantifiers, a few and several, and argues that the differences between them go beyond the (slightly) different quantities they each denote. Specifically, we argue that several construes its nominal complement as composed of individuated entities, which renders them more prominent, and thus a stronger basis in support of a conclusion the speaker is arguing for. We base our analysis on two experiments and a corpus study. The experiments show that there is indeed an argumentative difference between the quantifiers, and the corpus study points to the discourse factors behind it. In comparison with a few, several is associated with a higher discourse prominence for its complement (greater individuation, significance) and with greater argumentative strength. Based on this data, we characterize the quantifiers' prototypical discourse profiles. A typical instance of several occurs in persuasive genres, refers to a not-so-small quantity, construes the plural entity as composed of individuated entities, and contributes to a strong argument. A typical instance of a few occurs in non-persuasive genres, denotes a small quantity, construes the entities composing the plural entity as un-individuated, and contributes to a weak or neutral argument.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-175
Number of pages28
JournalLanguage and Cognition
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 30 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • argumentation
  • discourse prominence
  • distinctive collexeme analysis
  • individuation
  • quantifiers

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