Number marking in German measure phrases and the structure of pseudo-partitives

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This paper investigates the variation in the morphology and interpretation of pseudo-partitive constructions (‘NUM-N1-(of)-N2’) in the Central Bavarian dialect of Vienna, which shows a morphological distinction between ambiguous measure phrases such as two glasses of water: in the referential reading, which refers to two glasses, N1 takes plural morphology, whereas it is morphologically inert in the quantity reading, which refers to an amount of water. While these two readings of measure phrases in pseudo-partitives are cross-linguistically well represented, they are not always morphologically differentiated. The distribution of number marking in Viennese has syntactic (possibility of fronting out of the pseudo-partitive), semantic (availability of the referential vs. the quantity reading, predicate selection), and prosodic consequences (presence vs. absence of word stress on N1). I argue that this is because in the quantity reading, N1 is a morphologically inert functional head μ which takes a numeral and a substance noun (N2) as its arguments and counts the instances of N2 for a given unit of measure, while in the referential reading, the pseudo-partitive consists of two NPs. The variation in number morphology seen in these constructions can be used as a diagnostic for the microvariation and the cartography of complex NPs in Germanic pseudo-partitives, as well as for languages which do not morphologically distinguish between the two readings, like English.

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Correspondence to Laura Grestenberger.

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Grestenberger, L. Number marking in German measure phrases and the structure of pseudo-partitives. J Comp German Linguistics 18, 93–138 (2015) doi:10.1007/s10828-015-9074-1

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  • Pseudo-partitives
  • Measure phrases
  • Number
  • Container nouns
  • Viennese