Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 215–250 | Cite as

Computational complexity of polyadic lifts of generalized quantifiers in natural language

Research Article


We study the computational complexity of polyadic quantifiers in natural language. This type of quantification is widely used in formal semantics to model the meaning of multi-quantifier sentences. First, we show that the standard constructions that turn simple determiners into complex quantifiers, namely Boolean operations, iteration, cumulation, and resumption, are tractable. Then, we provide an insight into branching operation yielding intractable natural language multi-quantifier expressions. Next, we focus on a linguistic case study. We use computational complexity results to investigate semantic distinctions between quantified reciprocal sentences. We show a computational dichotomy between different readings of reciprocity. Finally, we go more into philosophical speculation on meaning, ambiguity and computational complexity. In particular, we investigate a possibility of revising the Strong Meaning Hypothesis with complexity aspects to better account for meaning shifts in the domain of multi-quantifier sentences. The paper not only contributes to the field of formal semantics but also illustrates how the tools of computational complexity theory might be successfully used in linguistics and philosophy with an eye towards cognitive science.


Generalized quantifier theory Computational complexity Polyadic quantification Multi-quantifier sentences Strong Meaning Hypothesis 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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