Lexical nouns are both +<span class="smallCaps">mass</span> and +<span class="smallCaps">count</span>, but they are neither +<span class="smallCaps">mass</span> nor +<span class="smallCaps">count</span>

Francis Jeffry Pelletier

in Count and Mass Across Languages

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199654277
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191746048 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics

Lexical nouns are both +mass and +count, but they are neither +mass nor +count

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This chapter investigates the rationale for having the lexical categories or features mass and count. Some theories make the features be syntactic; others make it be semantic. It is concluded here that none of the standard accounts of their function actually serve the purpose for which they are adopted, and that we should instead remove these features from the lexicon and have lexical nouns be neither +mass nor +count. But on the other hand, if every lexical noun could be characterized by both +mass and +count, then various of the desiderata would be captured. So we conclude that lexical nouns should be neither +mass nor +count, and both +mass and +count. Although this investigation is carried out in English, the moral holds for any ‘number marking’ language. Furthermore, the resulting theory is the one that is naturally congenial to classifier languages, showing a hithertofore unnoticed similarity between the two language classes. (However, languages that are of neither type … such as Dene Su ̨łiné, Yudja, and Karitianan … require some totally distinct vision of a mass-count distinction.)

Keywords: syntactic theories; semantic theories; mass; count; number-marking languages; mass terms; keith allen; universal grinder

Chapter.  8323 words. 

Subjects: Semantics

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