On Light Nouns

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This paper investigates the hypothesis that word classes are not homogeneous, but rather complex sets of entities with (partially) different properties that can be arranged along a scale. Whereas much work has been done on subclasses of verbs, and on scales of ‘verbiness’ (e.g., full-fledged verbs vs. verbs with a grammatical function), less attention has been paid to scales of ‘nouniness’. This paper focuses on a set of nouns – called ‘Light Nouns’ here – that occur as N1 in binominal constructions of the N1 of N2 type in languages such as Italian, English, and French. In this position Light Nouns tend to lose their lexical content and take on a more grammatical meaning that serves to modify N2. We discuss various types of Light Nouns (among which Taxonomic Nouns, Approximators, Quantifiers, and Support Nouns), measure their referentiality according to a set of parameters, and finally rank them along a scale.


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