Learning Quantifiers Across Different Languages

by Megan Tan

Figure 1: The acquisition of number words was generally not tested, but researchers now have a better idea of how this process works in children.


Researchers understand what it takes to learn a new language, but the acquisition of numerical words is unknown. In order to test this problem, Professor Napolean Katsos, from the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at University of Cambridge, and her team of researchers conducted an experiment on a group of children who spoke one of 31 languages. There were 768 children between the ages of five and six years old, and the researchers tested differences in linguistic acquisition of quantifiers.

Participants were presented with five boxes and five objects, and some of these objects were inside the boxes. Participants then heard a description and were required to judge if the description was right or wrong. This description tested concepts of quantifiers such as “all,” “none,” “some,” and “most.” The researchers found a universal order of acquisition of number words. Children started learning the concepts of singular, dual, and plural, despite the differences in language.

This universal system was also seen in the order of acquisition of quantifiers. Children showed greater understanding with the concept of “all.” Children were more successful at attributing a property to “all” or “none” rather than to “some.” Most children were better at attributing a property for “some” than they were for “most.” In general, children who spoke different languages acquired concepts of number words and quantifiers at different ages, and the order in which they acquired these number words and quantifiers were similar across languages.



  1. N. Katsos et. al, Cross-linguistic patterns in the acquisition of quantifiers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, 9244–9249 (2016). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1601341113
  2. Image retrieved from: https://www.google.com/search?q=google+images+all+some,+none&espv=2&biw=1440&bih=826&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj5gvnq3rrPAhUGXh4KHYDbBGEQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=all%2C+some%2C+none&imgrc=_ySAuJxwSc6rIM%3A

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