Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 39–68 | Cite as

Bare nouns and number in Dëne Sųłiné

  • Andrea WilhelmEmail author


This paper documents the number-related properties of Dëne Sųłiné (Athapaskan). Dëne Sųłiné has neither number inflection nor numeral classifiers. Nouns are bare, occur as such in argument positions, and combine directly with numerals. With these traits, Dëne Sųłiné represents a type of language that is little considered in formal typologies of number and countability. The paper critiques one influential proposal, that of Chierchia (in: Rothstein (ed.) Events and grammar, 1998a; Natural Language Semantics 6: 339–405, 1998b), and presents an alternative number typology, which introduces variation in the semantics of numerals. It will be shown that bare nouns in Dëne Sųłiné can be mass or count. Hence, the difference between count and mass cannot be expressed in terms of number, as in Chierchia. Instead, I express it in terms of atomicity. Mass nouns have nonatomic denotations, bare count nouns have atomic denotations that comprise singularities and pluralities. I also propose that numerals contain a function that accesses the singularities in a noun’s denotation. Hence they are compatible with bare count nouns, but not with mass nouns. In classifier languages, numerals denote a cardinality only; singularity-accessing functions are expressed in separate elements: the classifiers. Thus, languages like Chinese require classifiers because the numerals are semantically deficient, and not, as is assumed by Chierchia and others, the bare nouns.


Number Bare nouns Count Mass Numerals Classifiers Athapaskan 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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