In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Numerals

  • Introduction
  • Reference Resources
  • Monographs
  • Journals
  • Historical Perspectives

Linguistics Numerals
Tania Ionin, Ora Matushansky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0131


The linguistic properties of numerals have been investigated from a variety of perspectives. In formal generative literature, the focus has been primarily on the syntactic properties of numerals (as lexical vs. functional elements, and as heads vs. maximal projections), on their semantic status (as determiners vs. predicates vs. degrees), on the internal composition of complex numerals, and on the interpretation of modified numerals. Evidence bearing on theoretical analyses of numerals comes from a variety of languages; depending on the language, properties of numeral-containing noun phrases that are discussed in the literature include word order, case assignment, and internal as well as external gender and number agreement. A particularly large body of literature exists on the properties of numerals in Slavic languages; other languages whose numeral systems have been the subject of formal investigation include Semitic languages, Welsh, Bantu languages, and Finno-Ugric languages. Although most formal literature focuses on the syntax and semantics of cardinal numerals, ordinals and other numeral derivatives have also received attention. At the same time, a separate line of research at the semantics/pragmatics interface has examined the question of whether number words generate scalar implicatures; much of the research in this area involves experimental and/or language acquisition studies. A different line of experimental and acquisition research in the psychological literature examines the nature and development of the conceptual number system, and the relationship between language and number cognition. Ultimately, research on numerals can inform our understanding both of linguistic theory and of human cognition, making numerals an area of interest to scholars in linguistics, psycholinguistics, and cognitive psychology.

The authors would like to thank Lotte Hendriks for sharing her materials on the research into cognitive aspects of numerosity. The first author’s research was generously supported by NWO (project number 276-70-013).

Reference Resources

A description of numeral systems cross-linguistically can be found in Numeral Systems of the World’s Languages. Information about the syntax of cardinal-containing noun phrases is found in Syntactic Structures of the World’s Languages, while the syntax of ordinals and distributive numerals is described in the World Atlas of Language Structures.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.