Friday, November 27, 2009

How much is most?

The word most is used many times in speech. Mira Ariel of Tel Aviv University’s department of linguistics has been studying just how much people mean when they use the word ‘most.’ Using various research methods including questionnaires and looking at previous studies done in both America and the UK Prof. Ariel has come up with an answer. According to Ariel’s findings when people use the word ‘most’ they appear to mean 80-95% of whatever sample being discussed.

This appears to be independent of what the objects are; human, animals or inanimate objects, as well as who is using the word. Most linguists until this research had believed that the range fell between 51 and 99% and had the possibility to include 100%. Mira Ariel disagrees with this although her research does fall within these bounds.

While these results appear to be true for now, professor Ariel believes that the range could shift over the next 100 years. This is part of how language works however and the colloquial definition of ‘most’ is different now than it was in the past. Previously the word could easily have meant less than fifty percent; the word ‘most’ merely meant who had the larger portion. This could be a portion of 50% or even less depending on the situation. Linguistic ambiguity seems to be exemplified by a word like ‘most’ but Professor Ariel is working to show that the ambiguity of these words is for the most part in people’s heads.

For information about Mira Ariel's work visit here.


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