Number and Plurality: Cross-linguistic Variation in the Nominal Domain (part of LinG2) - NaP2019 Workshop

Country: Germany

City: Göttingen

Abstr. due: 02.09.2019

Dates: 11.12.19 — 12.12.19

Area Of Sciences: Humanities;

Organizing comittee e-mail:

Organizers: Göttingen network


Cross-linguistic variation concerning the presence of number marking, the count-mass distinction and the expression of plurality has been an inspiring source for hypotheses about the structure and meaning of nominals. One important challenge for current research is to figure out if different number-marking strategies systematically correspond to differences in the semantics of nominals or if the variation in number marking is orthogonal to semantic variation. 

Some approaches take different number-marking strategies to indicate cross-linguistic semantic variation: Lucy (1992) speculated that Yucatec Mayan speakers “treat nouns semantically as masses” in order to explain the optionality of plural morphology and the need for numeral classifiers. If so, the quantificational properties of nominals systematically depend on the available aspectual properties of the nominals (cf. Krifka 1989, Rijkhoff 1991, Champollion 2015), such that variation between (classifier vs. non-classifier languages) and within (mass/count) languages is traced back to a common source. Partially building on these ideas, Chierchia (1998) integrated cross-linguistic variation in number marking into a general framework of the possible denotations of bare nominals, relating the presence/absence of number marking to the presence/absence of determiners and classifiers in a language. 

The hypothesis that the denotations of nominals differ across languages raises the question how such differences relate to the cross-linguistic variation in number marking. One relevant insight from typological research is that a substantial part of this variation is to be found in the lexicon. Thus, number marking is sensitive to animacy in some languages, to humanness in some other languages, and to human rationality in yet others, i.e. to language-specific lexical semantic properties (Smith-Stark 1972, Corbett 2004). A further source of morphosyntactic variation comes from the role of the plural morphemes in nominal structures (head/modifier, cf. Wiltschko 2008). 

Cross-linguistic variation concerning semantic plurality and the count-mass distinction also raises the broader question if these grammatical phenomena relate closely to conceptual distinctions that matter for non-linguistic cognition, or if this correlation is indirect and permits systematic mismatches between grammatical and conceptual countability (cf. e.g. Rothstein 2017). 

The aim of this workshop is to bring together research, theoretical or experimental, on morphological, syntactic and semantic aspects of number marking and the expression of plurality that shed light on the observed cross-linguistic variation. Possible questions include but are not limited to: 

- Which number-marking strategies do natural languages employ? 
- Which other semantic properties of nominals correlate with semantic plurality and the count/mass distinction across languages? 
- Is semantic plurality associated with cross-linguistic constraints on the meanings of nominals? If so, what explains these constraints? 
- What are the consequences of particular nominal denotations for countability, the possibility of plural marking, the use of classifiers and determiners, and the predicational and argumental potential of nouns? 
- What is the division of labor between syntax and semantics in accounting for the constraints on plural marking? 
- To what extent can nominal expressions without morphosyntactic plural marking (e.g. conjunctions or singular quantifiers) behave like plurals semantically? 
- What cross-linguistic evidence can be found for the claim that languages with bare nominals employ covert determiners? 
- To what extent do semantic plurality and the count-mass distinction correspond to conceptual distinctions relevant for non-linguistic cognition?

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