Quantifiers satisfying semantic universals are simpler

Iris van de Pol, Paul Lodder, Leendert van Maanen, Shane Steinert-Threlkeld, Jakub Szymanik

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articleAcademicpeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)756-762
JournalProceedings of the Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • semantic universals
  • generalized quantifiers
  • logical grammar
  • complexity
  • minimal description length


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