The Grammar of Measurement

Linguistics 471
Northwestern University
Fall 2003, W 3.15-6

Instructor information

Chris Kennedy (
Department of Linguistics, Rm. 19 (2016 Sheridan Rd.)
491-8054 (t), 491-3770 (f)
Office hours by appointment

Course description

The goal of this proseminar is to extend the basic training in semantics provided in the first year courses by taking a focused look at the semantic analysis of a particular empirical domain. This fall we will explore issues in the semantics (and some syntax) of measurement, looking at (among other things): measure phrases and degree modifiers, comparison, number and the mass/count distinction, partitivity, classifiers, quantification, verbal aspect, and prepositional modification.

The main goal of this course is to see if it is possible to develop a general, comprehensive and explanatory formal analysis of a (hopefully) related set of linguistic phenomena involving the expression of measurement, rather than to investigate properties of measurement formalisms for their own sake. However, a question that we might keep in the back of our minds as we look at various linguistic constructions is whether the phenomena suggest a particular formalism for the (cognitive) representation of measurement.


Everyone who comes to class should plan on doing the readings and participating in the discussion. Students who are registered for the class must satisfy two formal requirements:

  1. They must present to the class one paper from either the supplementary readings (see below) or from a list of `additional readings' that can be downloaded here. These presentations should be about 30-45 minutes in length, and should highlight the crucial empirical and theoretical points made in the paper. (People who are not registered for the course may also do this if they want to and if we have time.)
  2. They must complete a research paper by the end of the quarter (Friday, December 12) and give presentations of their work in class during Reading Week (Wednesday, December 4). Students should discuss the topic of their research paper with me no later than the end of the eighth week of class (by Friday, November 14).

A rough plan

The following is a preliminary plan for the course, subject to change, depending on how far we get into certain issues and on the interests of the class. Changes will be updated on the website at least a week ahead of time.

Required readings are listed for each class and unmarked; these are the ones that will form the basis for the day's discussion. Readings listed in parentheses are supplementary --- things that are particularly relevant to the topic of that class, which I will talk about explicitly to varying degrees. Handouts for particular classes can be downloaded by clicking on that day's title. When available, pdf versions of the readings can be downloaded by clicking on the reading.
  1. The starting point (September 24)

    Overview of the class, and a semantics for measurement in adjectival constructions
    (Cresswell 1977, Klein 1991, Kennedy 2001)

  2. Basics of nominal reference (October 1)

    Mass vs.count; singular vs.plural
    Link 1983, Gillon 1992, (Doetjes 1997, ch. 2)

  3. Measurement in NP (October 8)

    The distribution of measure phrase modifiers in NP
    Schwarzschild 2002, (Parsons 1970, Schwarzschild and Wilkinson 2002)

  4. Partitives (October 15)

    The partitive constraint
    Ladusaw 1982, de Hoop 1997, (Barker 1998)

    Some French and Dutch
    Doetjes 1997, ch. 6, (de Hoop 1998)

    NB: Plan on attending Roger Schwarzschild's colloquium on Friday, October 17, the title of which is Part-whole relations in the semantics of nouns (click on the title to see the abstract). Roger will also be available to meet with people on Friday the 17th.

  5. Classifiers (Monday, October 27)

    Discussion of Schwarzschild's colloquium

    English classifier constructions
    Lehrer 1986, (van Riemsdijk 1998)

  6. Amount relatives (October 29)

    Amount relatives and the syntax-semantics interface
    Carlson 1977, (Heim 1987, Grosu and Landman 1998)

  7. Measurement in VP (November 5)

    Parallels between nominal and verbal reference
    Bach 1986

    Measure phrase adverbials
    Doetjes 1997, ch. 5, (Doetjes 1997, ch. 4, Krifka 1989)

  8. Telicity (November 12)

    Telicity and measure of change
    Hay, Kennedy and Levin 1999, (Krifka 1998)

    Japanese floated classifiers
    Nakanishi 2002a, (2002b)

  9. Vector space semantics (November 19)

    Is there a single, cross-categorial semantics for expressions of measurement?

  10. Zwarts 2000, Winter 2001, (Zwarts 1997, Zwarts and Winter 1997)

  11. Student presentations (December 4)


Bach, Emmon. 1986. The algebra of events. Linguistics and Philosophy 9:5--16.

Barker, Chris. 1998. Partitives, double genetives, and anti-uniqueness. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 16:679--717.

Carlson, Gregory. 1977. Amount relatives. Language 53:520--542.

Cresswell, M.J. 1977. The semantics of degree. In Montague grammar, ed. Barbara Partee, 261--292. New York: Academic Press.

Doetjes, Jenny. 1997. Quantifiers and selection. Doctoral Dissertation, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden.

Gillon, Brendan. 1992. Towards a common semantics for english count and mass nouns. Linguistics and Philosophy 15:597--639.

Grosu, Alexander, and Fred Landman. 1998. Strange relatives of the third kind. Natural Language Semantics 6:125--170.

Hay, Jen, Christopher Kennedy, and Beth Levin. 1999. Scale structure underlies telicity in `degree achievements'. In Proceedings of SALT IX, ed. Tanya Matthews and Devon Strolovitch, 127--144. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.

Heim, Irene. 1987. Where does the definiteness restriction apply? Evidence from the definiteness of variables. In The representation of (in)definiteness, ed. Eric Reuland and Alice ter Meulen, chapter2, 21--42. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

deHoop, Helen. 1997. A semantic reanalysis of the partitive constraint. Lingua 103:151--174.

deHoop, Helen. 1998. Partitivity. Glot International 3-2:3--10.

Kennedy, Christopher. 2001. Polar opposition and the ontology of `degrees'. Linguistics \& Philosophy 24:33--70.

Klein, Ewan. 1991. Comparatives. chapter32, 673--691. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Krifka, Manfred. 1989. Nominal reference, temporal constitution and quantification in event semantics. In Semantics and contextual expression, ed. Renate Bartsch, Johann van Benthem, and Peter van EmdeBoas, 75--115. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Krifka, Manfred. 1998. Scope-inversion under the rise-fall contour in german. Linguistic Inquiry 29:75--112.

Ladusaw, WilliamA. 1982. Semantic constraints on the English partitive construction. In Proceedings of WCCFL 1.

Lehrer, Adrienne. 1986. English classifier constructions. Lingua 68:109--148.

Link, Godehard. 1983. The logical analysis of plurals and mass terms: A lattice theoretical approach. In Meaning, use, and the interpretation of language, ed. R.B\"auerle, C.Schwarze, and A.von Stechow, 302--323. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Nakanishi, Kimiko. 2002a. Semantic properties of (non-)floating quantifiers and their syntactic implications. In Proceedings of J/K 12, xx--xx. Place: Publisher.

Nakanishi, Kimiko. 2002b. The semantics of measure phrases. In Proceedings of NELS 33, xx--xx. Amherst: GLSA.

Parsons, Terrence. 1970. An analysis of mass terms and amount terms. Foundations of Language 6:362--388.

Schwarzschild, Roger. 2002. The grammar of measurement. In Proceedings of SALT XII, ed. Brendan Jackson. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.

Schwarzschild, Roger, and Karina Wilkinson. 2002. Quantifiers in comparatives: A semantics of degree based on intervals. Natural Language Semantics 10:1--41.

Winter, Yoad. 2001. Measure phrase modification in a vector space semantics. In Proceedings of WCCFL 20, ed. K.Megerdoomina and L.A. Bar-el, 607--620. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Zwarts, Joost. 2000. Vectors across Spatial domains. Paper presented at the Worksho on Axes and Vectors in Language and Space, Lincoln University, July 7, 2000. To appear in Emile van der Zee and John Slack, eds., Axes and Vectors in Language and Space. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zwarts, Joost. 1997. Vectors as relative positions: A compositional semantics of modified pps. Journal of Semantics 14:57--86.

Zwarts, Joost, and Yoad Winter. 1997. A semantic characterization of locative PPs. In Semantics and Linguistic Theory 7, ed. Aaron Lawson, 294--311. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.