Linguistics Department

Colloquium - Masayoshi Shibatani (Rice University, Houston, Texas)

(Numeral) Classifiers and Nominalization

Mon, January 29, 2018 | CLA 1.302B (Glickman Center)

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM

Noun classifiers occur all over the world with various functions ranging from number/quantifier marking (numeral classifiers) to the discourse marking of specific/definite references and of register/style levels. Other functions include formation of what are known as “deictic anaphoric” and “numeral anaphoric” expressions, possessive marking, relative clause marking, and nominal derivation. However, the current understandings of classifiers such as “numeral classifiers … may categorize the referent of a noun in terms of its animacy, shape, and other inherent properties” (Aikhenvald 2006) do not readily explain why classifiers have these various functions and even a simple fact that numeral classifiers across languages always occur directly next to numerals rather than the head nouns that they are said to classify. The highly influential papers Greenberg (1974) and Chierchia (1998), based on the observation that nouns are transnumeral in languages without obligatory plural marking, advance a view that numeral classifiers make nouns individuated and countable in non-number marking languages, where nouns are claimed to be all collectives (Greenberg) or mass nouns (Chierchia). In addition to the problem pointed out above (if classifiers operate on nouns, why don’t they form a unit with them rather than with numerals?; cf. two coffees), Greenberg’s and Chierchia’s views are fundamentally flawed in that trasnumeral languages like Chinese and Japanese do in fact make a count-mass-collective distinction in the noun lexicon apart from the use of numeral classifiers. Of the various functions of classifiers enumerated above, we take nominalization to be the basic function of classifiers, as observed in the clearest manner in languages of the Americas and Southeast Asia. Numeral classifiers, also seen in many of these languages, are numeral-based nominalizations. It will be shown that many other “functions” of classifiers follow from the nominalization analysis.


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