Scope Fieldwork Project: scope and syntax of quantifiers

Author : Benjamin Bruening

Publication date : 2008

Questionnaire URL :


This project aims to help field linguists in their investigation of the syntax of quantifiers as well as their scope in the languages of the world. In order to do this, a set of materials (more than 70 pictures) has been shared on the website and that field linguists are free to download and use.

Protocol summary

"There are currently more than 70 pictures, depicting different kinds of people, animals, plants, artifacts, and situations. They are in a single folder, ordered sequentially. This is meant to make it easier to present them as a slide show on a computer, and the numbers make it easier to refer to them in field notes. [...]
The pictures are meant to test primarily for distributive versus non-distributive readings, involving universal quantifiers (all, each, every) interacting with indefinites or existential quantifiers. [...] The idea is to test, first, whether a sentence like Every shark is attacking someone can be distributive, with the subject quantifier distributing over the object. [...] Once it has been established whether a given quantifier can distribute, then the grammatical roles can be reversed: A shark is attacking every person. Most speakers of English judge this to be true of both the middle picture and the bottom picture, but some judge it to be true only of the bottom one. For those speakers, a universal quantifier as object cannot take scope over and distribute over an indefinite in subject position. 
Note that the pictures can be described in many different ways, depending on what the researcher wants to investigate." (The Scope Project website, 'materials and methods'

Development context

''This material was developed by Benjamin Bruening of the University of Delaware as part of a project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (grant number BCS-0518308). The purpose of the project is to investigate the syntax of quantifiers and scope in the languages of the world. [...]
The study of quantificational elements (words like everything or nothing) in natural languages is an important source of evidence for syntactic structure and how syntactic operations work and interact. In numerous languages referential noun phrases reveal little about the syntax and its interface with semantics, particularly in free-word-order languages where such noun phrases can be freely reordered with few semantic consequences, and even dropped when their reference can be determined through salience or agreement. Quantificational elements, however, exhibit a much more constrained behavior, and interact with each other in ways that can reveal much about the structure of even free-word-order languages. [...]
The director of the project is Benjamin Bruening, who is solely responsible for the content of this website. Yaping Tsai helped to prepare the materials and to do fieldwork as a research assistant. Gina Cook and Masahiro Yamada also worked on the project as graduate assistants. '' (Typological tools for field linguistics website,

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