Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 537–586 | Cite as

The universal density of measurement

Research Article


The notion of measurement plays a central role in human cognition. We measure people’s height, the weight of physical objects, the length of stretches of time, or the size of various collections of individuals. Measurements of height, weight, and the like are commonly thought of as mappings between objects and dense scales, while measurements of collections of individuals, as implemented for instance in counting, are assumed to involve discrete scales. It is also commonly assumed that natural language makes use of both types of scales and subsequently distinguishes between two types of measurements. This paper argues against the latter assumption. It argues that natural language semantics treats all measurements uniformly as mappings from objects (individuals or collections of individuals) to dense scales, hence the Universal Density of Measurement (UDM). If the arguments are successful, there are a variety of consequences for semantics and pragmatics, and more generally for the place of the linguistic system within an overall architecture of cognition.


Number Degrees Implicature Exhaustivity Comparatives Negative Islands 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics and PhilosophyMITCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Linguistics and Cognitive ScienceMIT and Pomana CollegeClaremontUSA

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