Plurality of Mass Nouns and the Notion of “Semantic Parameter”

  • Gennaro Chierchia
Part of the Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy book series (SLAP, volume 70)


The main thesis I would like to develop and defend in this paper is that mass nouns come out of the lexicon with plurality already built in and that that is the (only) way in which they differ from count nouns. On the basis of this hypothesis (let us dub it the Inherent Plurality Hypothesis), I will offer a new account of the distribution of mass and count quantifiers, one that takes into consideration possible crosslinguistic variations in such distribution. I will also address, in a preliminary and somewhat speculative way, the issue of languages (such as Chinese) that are said not to have count nouns. One conclusion that we will reach is that there is some limited variation in the way in which the syntactic structure of NPs is mapped onto its denotation across different languages. If crosslinguistic variation is to be accounted for in terms of parametric differences, then the mass/count distinction seems to provide evidence for a semantic parameter. In the rest of this introduction, I will first try to give in a highly informal way an idea of the main thesis to be defended. Then I will briefly review the main data to be accounted for. Looking ahead to the overall organization of the paper, in section 2 I give some background assumptions on the nature of plurality. In section 3 I will present in detail the Inherent Plurality Hypothesis and show how it accounts for the data presented below. In section 4, I will consider further empirical consequences of the Inherent Plurality Hypothesis and see how it compares to a sample of other current influential approaches. Finally, in section 5, I will tackle the issue of languages allegedly without count nouns.


Semantic Parameter Common Noun Definite Article Mass Noun Count Noun 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gennaro Chierchia
    • 1
  1. 1.Istituto di GlottologìaUniversità degli studi di MilanoItaly

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