The meaning of 'most': Semantics, numerosity, and psychology

Paul Pietroski, Jeffrey Lidz, Tim Hunter, Justin Halberda

The meaning of ‘most’ can be described in many ways. We offer a framework for distinguishing semantic descriptions, interpreted as psychological hypotheses that go beyond claims about sentential truth conditions, and an experiment that tells against an attractive idea: ‘most’ is understood in terms of one-to-one correspondence. Adults evaluated ‘Most of the dots are yellow’, as true or false, on many trials in which yellow dots and blue dots were displayed for 200ms. Displays manipulated the ease of using a “one-to-one with remainder” strategy, and a strategy of using the Approximate Number System to compare of (approximations of) cardinalities. Interpreting such data requires care, in thinking about how meaning is related to verification. But the results suggest that ‘most’ is understood in terms of cardinality comparison, even when counting is impossible.