LOT Winter School 2018

Nominal Semantics and Grammatical Number

Scott Grimm


University of Rochester


Course info

Level: advanced

Course description:

Languages show tremendous diversity in how grammatical number is encoded. A major focus in the research on the syntax and semantics of nominals has been to understand the parameters of this variation and ultimately its source. Despite a wealth of work on the topic, fundamental controversies persist: Does the presence or absence of grammatical number on certain nouns, i.e. the count/mass distinction, reflect a principle of lexical semantics or is it driven by context? Does the plural morpheme, e.g. -s in English, mean “more than one” or “one or more”? Answering such questions has proven difficult in the face of substantial cross-linguistic and lexical variation. This course takes stock of this variation and examines the interplay in the literature between substantive empirical generalizations and the formal systems intended to represent them.

The first class will lay the foundations by discussing classic semantic approaches to nominal meaning and number and then give a cross-linguistic overview of grammatical number. We will pursue the connections among lexical nominal meaning, cross-linguistic variation and formal modeling by considering in depth the count/mass distinction, then proceeding to the meaning of plurality itself. The course will end by addressing some of the, surprisingly large, number of open questions in this domain, such as how the relation between nominal meaning and morphological number manifests itself for abstract nouns.

Day-to-day program

Monday: Background: Central approaches to nominal meaning and the typology of number

Tuesday: Count/mass controversies, part 1: Atoms, aggregates and artifacts

Wednesday: Count/mass controversies, part 2: Cross-linguistic (in)commensurability

Thursday: Plural controversies: The multiple meanings and uses of the plural

Friday: Beyond the realm of the concrete: Individuating the abstract

Reading list

Course readings (required)

Lecture 1:

Link, G (1983) The logical analysis of plurals and mass terms: A lattice-theoretical approach. In: Bauerle R, Schwarze C, von Stechow A (eds) Meaning, use, and interpretation of language, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin (Only sections 1-2 required.)

Krifka, M (1995) Common nouns: A contrastive analysis of English and Chinese. In: Carlson GN, Pelletier FJ (eds) The Generic Book, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 398–411

Lecture 2:

Barner D, Snedeker J (2005) Quantity judgments and individuation: Evidence that mass nouns count. Cognition 97:41–66

Lecture 3:

Grimm, S. Grammatical Number and the Scale of Individuation. Ms.

Lecture 4:

Sauerland, U., J. Anderssen, and K. Yatsushiro (2005). The Plural Is Semantically Unmarked. In S. Kepser and M. Reis, eds., Linguistic Evidence: Empirical, Theoretical and Computational Perspectives, pp. 413–434. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lecture 5:

Bach E (1986) The algebra of events. Linguistics and Philosophy 15:5–16

Further readings (optional):

Bale A, Barner D (2009) The interpretation of functional heads: Using compara- tives to explore the mass/count distinction. Journal of Semantics 26:217–252

Chierchia G (1998) Plurality of mass nouns and the notion of “semantic parame- ter”. In: Rothstein S (ed) Events and Grammar, Kluwer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp 53–104

Chierchia G (2010b) Mass nouns, vagueness and semantic variation. Synthese 174:99–149

Corbett G. (2000) Number. Cambridge University Press.

Deal AR (2017) Countability distinctions and semantic variation. Natural Lan- guage Semantics 25:125–171

Doetjes JS (2012), Count/mass distinctions across languages. In: Maienborn C., Heusinger K. von, Portner P. (Eds.) Semantics: an international handbook of natural language meaning, part III. Berlin: De Gruyter. 2559-2580.

Farkas DF and de Swart H (2010). The semantics and pragmatics of plurals. Semantics and Pragmantics 3(6), 1–54.

Grimm S (2012) Degrees of Countability: A Mereotopological Approach to the Mass/Count Distinction. In Cherches A (ed) Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistics Theory 22. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY.

Grimm S and Levin B. Furniture and Other Artifactual Aggregates. Ms.

Grimm S (2013) Plurality is Distinct from Number-Neutrality. In: Fainleib L, LaCara N, Park Y (eds) Proceedings of the 41st Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society. Graduate Linguistic Student Association of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Lima S (2014) All notional mass nouns are count nouns in Yudja. In: Snider T, D’Antonio S, Weiland M (eds) Proceedings of SALT 24 534-554, 2014

Middleton EL, Wisniewski EJ, Trindel KA, Imai M (2004) Separating the chaff from the oats: Evidence for a conceptual distinction between count noun and mass noun aggregates. Journal of Memory and Language 50:371–394

Pelletier FJ, Schubert LK (2004) Mass expressions. In: Gabbay D, Guenthner F (eds) Handbook of philosophical logic, vol 10, Kluwer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp 249–335

Rothstein S (2010) Counting and the mass/count distinction. Journal of Semantics 27:343–397

Spector, B (2007). Aspects of the pragmatics of plural morphology: On higher-order implicatures. In: U Sauerland and P Stateva (eds.) Presuppositions and implicatures in compositional semantics, pp. 243–281. New York: Palgrave/ MacMillan.