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Quantification in Malayalam

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Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP,volume 97)


After presenting some basic genetic, historical and typological information about Malayalam, this chapter outlines the quantification patterns it expresses. It illustrates various semantic types of quantifiers, such as generalized existential, generalized universal, proportional, definite and partitive which are defined in the Quantifier Questionnaire in Chap. “The Quantifier Questionnaire”. It partitions the expression of the semantic types into morpho-syntactic classes: Adverbial type quantifiers and Nominal (or Determiner) type quantifiers. For the various semantic and morpho-syntactic types of quantifiers it also distinguishes syntactically simple and syntactically complex quantifiers, as well as issues of distributivity and scope interaction, classifiers and measure expressions, and existential constructions. The chapter describes structural properties of determiners and quantified noun phrases in Malayalam, both in terms of internal structure (morphological or syntactic) and distribution.


  • Malayalam
  • Quantification patterns
  • Semantic
  • Morpho-syntactic
  • Quantifiers
  • Classifiers
  • Determiners
  • Quantified noun phrases

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  1. 1.

    Abbreviations in glosses: 1sg = 1st person singular; 2sg = 2nd person singular; 3sg = 3rd person singular; 1pl(excl.) = 1st person plural exclusive; 2pl = 2nd person plural; 3pl = 3rd person plural; 3sgf = 3rd person singular feminine; 3sgm = 3rd person singular masculine; acc = accusative case; comp = comparative marker; cop = copula; dat = dative case; ex = existential copula; emph = emphatic marker; f = feminine; fut = future; gen = genitive case; hab = habitual; ipfv = imperfective; l = link; loc = locative case; mod = modality; neg = negation; nom = nominative case; pass = passive; pfct = perfect; pl = plural; prs = present; pst = past; q = question marker; rel = relativizer (adjectivizer).

  2. 2.

    In our speakers’ variety, milk is pronounced [paalə] with long [aa], instead of [palə], as pronounced in other varieties. Our speakers spent time in the capitol of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, and grew up in a slightly smaller town named Thiruvallam near to the capitol city.

  3. 3.

    According to one of our speakers, the term poocca ‘grass’ is used in the districts of Kottayam/Pathanamthitta.

  4. 4.

    According to an anonymous reviewer the use of pala ‘many’/’several’ here is not possible in his/her dialect and in the standard variety. Our speakers find this use acceptable in their variety.

  5. 5.

    kaaṇaan is acceptable in informal speech. For more formal and written language kaaṇuvaan is recommended.

  6. 6.

    Examples (28b), (28d) and (28f) are not acceptable for our consultants but they are acceptable for one anonymous reviewer.

  7. 7.

    An anonymous reviewer does not get this contrast.

  8. 8.

    Hani Babu (2006) provides a detailed analysis of the particle –um.

  9. 9.

    According to one anonymous reviewer, this sentence does not have a neither…nor interpretation. However, all our consultants agree that this is the interpretation it renders.

  10. 10.

    In Sect. 2, cardinal quantifiers were presented along with their combinatorial possibilities with respect to mass and count nouns.

  11. 11.

    According to Jayaseelan (2011) it is the disjunction marker –oo that is suffixed to verbs to form yes/no questions. We gloss it as Q(uestion) particle.

  12. 12.

    According to Jayaseelan (2001, 2011), −um and –oo are the coordinating conjunction and disjunction morphemes, which when suffixed to question words, they yield universal and existential quantifiers respectively.

  13. 13.

    Modal of permission requires dative case on the subject NP.

  14. 14.

    For an overview of negation in modal sentences see Asher and Kumari (1997).


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Correspondence to Pilar Chamorro Fernandez .

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/p/ p /g/ g /l:/ ll
/p:/ pp /gɦ/ gh /ɭ/
/ph/ ph /m/ m /ɭ:/ ḷḷ
/t/ t /m:/ mm   
/t:/ tt /̪/ n /a/ a
/th/ th /̪:/ nn /e/ e
/thj/   /n/ n /i/ i
/tɕ/ c /n:/ nn /o/ o
/tɕ:/ cc /ɲ/ /u/ u
/tɕh/ ch /ɲ:/ ṇṇ /a:/ aa
/ʈ/ /ɳ/ ñ /e:/ ee
/ʈ:/ ṭṭ /ɳ:/ ññ /i:/ ii
h/ ṭh /ŋ/ ŋ /o:/ oo
/k/ k /r/ /u:/ uu
/k:/ kk j/ /ə/ ə
/kh/ kh /s/ s /ai/ ai
/b/ b /ɕ/ ś /au/ au
/bɦ/ bh /ʂ/ /ei/ ei
/d/ d /h/ h /ia/ ia
/dɦ/ dh /f/ f /ua/ ua
/dʒ/ j /ʋ/ v /̥/ r
/dʒɦ/ jh /ɻ/   
/ɖ/ /j/ y   
ɦ/ ḍh /l/ l   

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Fernandez, P.C., Antonini, L. (2017). Quantification in Malayalam. In: Paperno, D., Keenan, E. (eds) Handbook of Quantifiers in Natural Language: Volume II. Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy, vol 97. Springer, Cham.

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