Universiteit van Amsterdam


Institute for Logic, Language and Computation

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1 April 2014, Logic Tea, Guillaume Thomas

Speaker: Guillaume Thomas
Title: Count/mass coercion in TTR
Date: Tuesday 1 April 2014
Time: 17:00-18:00
Location: Room F1.15, Science Park 107, Amsterdam


It is well known that nouns can be used countably (e.g. "dog" in "John was bit by a dog") or non-countably (e.g. "sand" in "there is sand in my shoes"). Equally well known is the fact that a given noun can be used countably or non-countably in different environments ("I bought an apple" vs. "There is apple in the salad"). Such alternations can be described as shifts from a count (or non-count) to a non-count (resp. count) use of a noun. Two types of shifts of countability that have been discussed extensively in the literature are grinding (shift from the description of individuals to the description of the stuff that they are made of) and packaging (shift from the description of stuff to the description of portions of that stuff "packaged" with respect to some sort of container or unit of measurement), cf. Pelletier (1975).

Two families of theories have been proposed to account for such facts. On the one hand, one may assume that nouns are underspecified for count/non-count, and that this distinction is built at the NP level (Allan 1980, Bunt 1985). A variant of this position is that lexical entries of nouns list both count and non-count senses, which are selected based on the syntactic environment of the noun and the context of utterance (Pelletier 2012). Such theories typically assume that grinding and packaging apply to senses of nouns rather than to nouns as lexical items, and that they are universal, i.e. that they can freely apply to (almost) any noun. On the other hand, one may assume that nouns are lexically marked as count or non-count. Proponents of this view typically argue that grinding and packaging are restricted post-lexical operations (see e.g. Fillmore 1989, Djalali et al 2011).

In this talk, I will adopt the second view, and I will discuss two types of restrictions on grinding and packaging:

(i) Semantic asymmetry between grinding and packaging: the semantic output of packaging is less predictable than the semantic output of grinding (cf. Bach 1986).

(ii) Dependency of grinding and packaging on world-knowledge and extra-linguistic convention: while "a beer" quantifies over glasses or bottles of beer, "a whiskey" only quantifies over glasses of whiskey.

In order to account for these restrictions, I will analyze shifts of countability as type-shifting rules restricted by representations of prototypical situations involving the referents of the shifted noun. These prototypical situations are closely related to Fillmorean's frames (Fillmore 1982). The analysis will build on Cooper's (2012) recent work on Type Theory with Records.

Bach, Emmon (1986). The algebra of events. Linguistics and Philosophy 9:5-16. Cooper, Robin. 2012. Type theory and semantics in flux. In Ruth Kempson, Nicholas Asher and Tim Fernando (eds.) Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. Philosophy of Linguistics, 14. General editors: Dov M. Gabbay, Paul Thagard and John Woods. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Fillmore, C.J.: Frame semantics. In: Linguistics in the Morning Calm, pp. 111-137. Hanshin Publishing Co., Seoul (1982)

Fillmore, C.J. (1989). Grammatical Construction Theory and the Familiar Dichotomies, in R. Dietrich and C.F. Graumann, eds., Language Processing in Social Context, North-Holland, Amsterdam, 17-38.

Pelletier, Francis Jeffry (1975). Non-singular reference: Some preliminaries. Philosophia 5:451-465.

Pelletier, Francis Jeffry (2012). Lexical Nouns are Neither Mass nor Count, but they are Both Mass and Count. In Diane Massam, ed., A Cross-Linguistic Eploration of the Count-Mass Distinction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

For more information, please visit the website http://www.illc.uva.nl/logic_tea/. or contact Guus Eelink (), Johannes Marti () or Masa Mocnik ().

Please note that this newsitem has been archived, and may contain outdated information or links.