Original Paper

The Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 1-46

First online:

Diminutive-formation in German

Spelling out the classifier analysis
  • Dennis OttAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, Harvard University Email author 

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In German, mass nouns can be turned into count nouns by means of two alternative strategies: either by using them in connection with a numeral classifier, or by adding the diminutive morpheme (-chen). In this paper, I argue that the two strategies are structurally exactly parallel, with both kinds of elements (numeral classifiers and diminutive -chen) being exponents of an individuating functional head. The (superficial) difference is that -chen—which I show is a clitic-like element—triggers obligatory movement of the nominalized root to its Spec. By contrast, this movement is optional with a (non-deficient) numeral classifier, yielding both ‘analytic’ and ‘compound’ forms. The picture that emerges from the discussion is a unified analysis of count structures in German.


Diminutives Classifiers German Morphology Syntax