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Count and Mass Across Languages$
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Diane Massam

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199654277

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654277.001.0001

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

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

(p.54) 4 Collectives in the intersection of mass and count nouns: A cross‐linguistic account*
Count and Mass Across Languages

Heike Wiese

Oxford University Press

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

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