Volume 3, Issue 2
  • ISSN 2665-9336
  • E-ISSN: 2665-9344
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In many languages, nouns need a numeral classifier to combine with number words or quantifiers. Even though languages may have an elaborate system of numeral classifiers, there usually are exceptional nouns that combine directly with number words. This paper deals with the following questions: Which nouns trigger a numeral classifier when counted? Which nouns are more likely to occur without an additional classifier in a numeral context? Data from 32 languages reveal a classifiability scale of nouns depending on their semantics. The more animate a noun, the more likely is the occurrence of a classifier. With inanimate nouns, classifiers often may or must be omitted. The investigation extends to units, with units of time being much more likely to be accompanied by a numeral classifier than other units. These findings are surprising in the light of the predominant view that numeral classifiers are individuating units in languages where nouns appear to be uncountable mass nouns. I discuss several approaches, of which animacy and the are most promising.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): animacy; form-frequency correspondence; individuation; mass nouns; numeral classifiers
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