Plural mass nouns and the compositionality of number

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Title: Plural mass nouns and the compositionality of number
Authors: Acquaviva, Paolo
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Date: 2004
Online since: 2012-11-08T14:57:42Z
Abstract: It is true that, as is well known since Allan (1980), mass and count are best seen as preferences rather than absolute values for lexical items; for instance, clothes cannot be governed by a numeral, but it tolerates the count quantifier a few. Even so, the existence of plurals that, at the very least, share some properties with mass nouns, raises questions about the chain of reasoning I have sketched out above. In fact, the assumption that plural nouns must refer to collections of individuals is simply wrong, even in languages where the number category would appear to correlate straightforwardly with the contrast between one and more than one. My first goal here will be to substantiate this empirical claim (section 2). Secondly, I will address in section 3 a theoretical question that cannot even be posed, let alone answered, without realizing that plural nouns can be non-count: the relation between semantic and morphological structure in mass plurals, whose interpretation does not seem to accord with the interpretation of the plural affix. How can a noun modified by this affix fail to denote non-singleton sets and still retain a compositional interpretation? The answer is that mass plurals are indeed semantically plural, but they refer to manifold complexes of non-individual parts. The familiar onemany contrast of book vs. books is not a primitive, defining trait of plurality, but a consequence of the semantics of the noun and of the way plurality combines with it. Variation along either of these two dimensions can bring about different readings—which are the empirical concern of this paper.
Funding Details: Not applicable
Type of material: Journal Article
Publisher: Presses Universitaires de Nancy
Journal: Verbum
Volume: 26
Issue: 4
Start page: 387
End page: 401
Copyright (published version): 2004 Editions Universitaires de Lorraine
Keywords: CountabilityPluralNumberCompositionality
Subject LCSH: Grammar, Comparative and general--Number
Grammar, Comparative and general--Mass nouns
Compositionality (Linguistics)
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
Appears in Collections:Languages, Cultures and Linguistics Research Collection
UCD Humanities Institute Research Collection

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