Chapter

Classifying and massifying incrementally in Chinese language comprehension⋆

Natalie M. Klein, Greg N. Carlson, Renjie Li, T. Florian Jaeger and Michael K. Tanenhaus

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/9780199654277.003.0014

Series: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics

Classifying and massifying incrementally in Chinese language comprehension⋆

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Unlike English nouns, Mandarin nouns do not syntactically reflect the mass/count distinction, but are akin to English mass nouns (e.g. water) in that they refer to unindividuated pluralities. Thus speakers must use classifiers after numerals and demonstratives to semantically partition all nouns: count concepts must be counted with a classifier (一架钢琴, one FRAME piano) the way English mass nouns are (one GLASS OF water). While an ontological distinction is not apparent in Chinese nouns, some have argued that this information might be encoded at the classifier level and that classifiers might play a functional role similar to that of gender-marked determiners. In order to better understand the role massifiers and classifiers play in language comprehension, three visual world experiments were conducted. Phonological cohort competition and anticipatory eye-movements were examined in cases of English mass reference, Chinese count reference, and Chinese mass reference. Results suggest that classifiers are interpreted structurally and have an immediate impact on referential selection, and this effect is potentially stronger with massifiers and mass referents.

Keywords: classifiers; massifiers; sentence processing; psycholinguistics; Chinese; experimental semantics; visual world paradigm

Chapter.  7861 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Semantics

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