Chapter

Collectives in the intersection of mass and count nouns: A cross‐linguistic account*

Heike Wiese

in Count and Mass Across Languages

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199654277
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191746048 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654277.003.0004

Series: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics

Collectives in the intersection of mass and count nouns: A cross‐linguistic account*

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Nouns like cattle and furniture, which in this chapter is called ‘collectives’ for short, constitute an exception in the English mass/count domain: they refer to countable objects (‘count’), but can appear in bare NPs and do not pluralize (‘mass’). However, while exceptional in English, collectives are the rule in so-called ‘classifier languages’ (e.g., Mandarin) and also in some Indo-European languages (e.g., Persian), pointing to a general, systematic option for nouns, rather than an idiosyncratic phenomenon. The chapter discusses collectives from a cross-linguistic point of view, and show that they are located at an intersection of mass and count nouns that indicates an autonomy of syntactic and conceptual features, rather than the one-to-one correlation suggested by such noun pairs as cows (reference to subjects, marked for number) vs. beef (reference to substance, no number marking). This autonomy supports a cross-linguistic mass/count distinction that is independent of the availability of syntactic plural marking in a language.

Keywords: collectives; classifiers; transnumeral; mass; count coercions; mass plural; linguistic architecture

Chapter.  8319 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Semantics

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