We have been carrying out experiments with human subjects investigating the processing of vague quantifiers in referring expressions, eg, 'few', 'many'.
Participants are presented with stimuli on screen in the form of squares containing arrays of dots, and are instructed to select one of the squares with reference to how many dots it contains. The experiments show that, under some circumstances, people make their selection faster when the referring expression uses a vague quantifier than when it uses a crisp alternative. The experiments also show that, under some circumstances, this response time advantage can be achieved by using crisp verbal quantifiers like `fewest', `most', ie, that the response time advantage might not be due to vagueness per se, but to the verbal format.
The results have implications for NLG systems that must choose between different forms of linguistic referring expressions for conveying numerical information to human readers.
This work is supported by the EPSRC Platform Grant