Volume 24, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1606-822X
  • E-ISSN: 2309-5067



This paper presents a compositional analysis of the fact that Mandarin individuating classifiers are systematically optional in various degree constructions (see also Lin & Schaeffer 2018 for experimental evidence), by taking a mixed approach incorporating the insights from Chierchia (19982010) that Mandarin nouns denote kind terms and individuating classifiers offer the level of individuation and those from Krifka (1995) that (bare) numerals do not encode the cardinality function. By considering (bare) numerals as degree terms (e.g., Hackl 2001Nouwen 2010Rett 2014Kennedy 2015, among many others), the mixed approach advocated here embraces the hypothesis that the locus of variation between English and Mandarin lies in neither the semantics of nouns nor that of numerals, but in the measure operators: these linguistic elements (including sortal/individuating classifiers) are necessary to mediate between numerals and nouns to avoid the semantic type-mismatch. The proposed analysis of individuating classifiers not only explains the role of Mandarin individuating classifiers in degree constructions (i.e., their syntactic optionality, along with a semantic variation in the dimension of comparison), but also closely connects with Bale & Barner’s (2009) idea about quantity judgments that comparative constructions can be used as a reliable diagnostic of the mass-count distinction in natural languages beyond English. Specifically, the fact that Mandarin unclassified nouns allow both cardinality and non-cardinality monotonic dimensions in a variety of degree constructions based on quantity judgments indicates that they are mass-count neutral; a tentative semantics of Mandarin nouns for their mass-count neutrality is thus suggested. Some factors leading to the individuation of nouns are also discussed.

Available under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...



  1. Barner, David & Snedeker, Jesse
    2005 Quantity judgments and individuation: Evidence that mass nouns count. Cognition97(1). 41–66. 10.1016/j.cognition.2004.06.009
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2004.06.009 [Google Scholar]
  2. Barner, David & Inagaki, Shunji & Li, Peggy
    2009 Language, thought, and real nouns. Cognition111(3). 329–344. 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.02.008
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2009.02.008 [Google Scholar]
  3. Bale, Alan & Barner, David
    2009 The interpretation of functional heads: using comparatives to explore the mass/count distinction. Journal of Semantics26(3). 217–252. 10.1093/jos/ffp003
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffp003 [Google Scholar]
  4. Bale, Alan & Coon, Jessica
    2014 Classifiers are for numerals, not for nouns: Consequences for the mass/count distinction. Linguistic Inquiry45(4). 696–707. 10.1162/LING_a_00170
    https://doi.org/10.1162/LING_a_00170 [Google Scholar]
  5. Bale, Alan & Barner, David
    2018 Quantity judgment and the mass-count distinction across languages: Advances, problems and future directions for research. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics3(1). Article no. 63. 10.5334/gjgl.536
    https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.536 [Google Scholar]
  6. Buccola, Brian & Spector, Benjamin
    2016 Modified numerals and maximality. Linguistics and Philosophy39(3). 151–199. 10.1007/s10988‑016‑9187‑2
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-016-9187-2 [Google Scholar]
  7. Bylinina, Lisa & Nouwen, Rick
    2018 On “zero” and semantic plurality. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics3(1). Article no. 98. 10.5334/gjgl.441
    https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.441 [Google Scholar]
  8. Chen, Yi-Hsun
    . Forthcoming. The anatomy of Chinese superlative modifiers: The case of Q-adjectives. (Accepted atLanguage and Linguistics.)
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Cheng, Lisa Lai-Shen & Sybesma, Rint
    1999 Bare and not-so-bare nouns and the structure of NP. Linguistic Inquiry30(4). 509–542. 10.1162/002438999554192
    https://doi.org/10.1162/002438999554192 [Google Scholar]
  10. Cheng, Lisa Lai-Shen, & Doetjes, Jenny & Sybesma, Rint & Zamparelli, Roberto
    2012 On the interpretation of number and classifiers. Italian Journal of Linguistics24(2). 175–194.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Cheung, Pierina & Li, Peggy & Barner, David
    2012 What counts in Mandarin Chinese: A study of individuation and quantification. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society341. 210–215.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Chierchia, Gennaro
    1998 Reference to kinds across languages. Natural Language Semantics6(4). 339–405. 10.1023/A:1008324218506
    https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1008324218506 [Google Scholar]
  13. 2010 Mass nouns, vagueness and semantic variation. Synthese174(1). 99–149. 10.1007/s11229‑009‑9686‑6
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-009-9686-6 [Google Scholar]
  14. 2015 How universal is the mass/count distinction? Three grammars of counting. InLi, Yen-Hui Audrey & Simpson, Andrew & Tsai, Wei-Tian Dylan (eds.), Chinese syntax in a cross-linguistic perspective, 147–175. New York: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. 2021 Mass vs. count: Where do we stand? Outline of a theory of semantic variation. InKiss, Tibor & Pelletier, Francis Jeffry & Husić, Halima (eds.), Things and stuff: The semantics of the count-mass distinction, 21–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781108937979.003
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108937979.003 [Google Scholar]
  16. Dayal, Veneeta
    2014 Bangla plural classifiers. Language and Linguistics15(1). 47–87.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Deal, Amy Rose
    2017 Countability distinctions and semantic variation. Natural Language Semantics25(2). 125–171. 10.1007/s11050‑017‑9132‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-017-9132-0 [Google Scholar]
  18. Erbach, Kurt
    2020 Predicting object mass nouns across languages. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America5(1). 228–241. 10.3765/plsa.v5i1.4698
    https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v5i1.4698 [Google Scholar]
  19. 2021Object mass nouns: A frame based analysis. Düsseldorf: Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Erbach, Kurt & Sutton, Peter & Filip, Hana & Byrdeck, Katrin
    2017 Object mass nouns in Japanese. InCremers, Alexandre & van Gessel, Thom & Roelofsen, Floris (eds.), Proceedings of the 21st Amsterdam Colloquium, 235–244. Amsterdam: Institute for Logic, Language and Computation.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Erbach, Kurt & Sutton, Peter & Filip, Hana
    2019 Bare nouns and the Hungarian mass/count distinction. InSilva, Alexandra & Staton, Sam & Sutton, Peter & Umbach, Carla (eds.), Language, logic, and computation (Lecture Notes in Computer Science 11456), 86–107. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer. 10.1007/978‑3‑662‑59565‑7_5
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-59565-7_5 [Google Scholar]
  22. Filip, Hana & Sutton, Peter
    2017 Singular count NPs in measure constructions. InBurgdorf, Dan & Collard, Jacob & Maspong, Sireemas & Stefánsdóttir, Brynhildur (eds.), Proceedings of Semantics and Linguistic Theory 27 (SALT 27), 340–357. Ithaca: Cornell University. 10.3765/salt.v27i0.4277
    https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v27i0.4277 [Google Scholar]
  23. Grano, Thomas
    2012 Mandarin hen and universal markedness in gradable adjectives. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory30(2). 513–565. 10.1007/s11049‑011‑9161‑1
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-011-9161-1 [Google Scholar]
  24. Grimm, Scott
    2012Number and individuation. Stanford: Stanford University. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Grimm, Scott & Levin, Beth
    2012 Who has more furniture? An exploration of the bases for comparison. (Paper presented atMass/Count in Linguistics, Philosophy and Cognitive Science Conference, Paris, December 19–21 2012.)
    [Google Scholar]
  26. 2016 Artifact nouns: Reference and countability. InLamont, Andrew & Tetzloff, Katerina (eds.), Proceedings of the 47th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 47), vol.21, 55–64. Amherst: GLSA.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Hackl, Martin
    2001Comparative quantifiers. Cambridge: MIT. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Hsieh, Miao-Ling
    2008The internal structure of noun phrases in Chinese. Taipei: Crane Publishing Co.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Inagaki, Shunji & Barner, David
    2009 Countability in absence of count syntax: Evidence from Japanese quantity judgments. InHirakawa, Makiko & Inagaki, Shunji & Arita, Setsuko & Nakayama, Mineharu & Morikawa, Hiromi & Sirai, Hidetosi & Tsubakita, Jessika (eds.), Studies in Language Sciences (8): Papers from the Eighth Annual Conference of the Japanese Society for Language Sciences, 111–125. Tokyo: Kuroshio Publishers.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Ionin, Tania & Matushansky, Ora
    2006 The composition of complex cardinals. Journal of Semantics23(4). 315–360. 10.1093/jos/ffl006
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffl006 [Google Scholar]
  31. Jackson, Brendan Balcerak & Penka, Doris
    2017 Number word constructions, degree semantics and the metaphysics of degrees. Linguistics and Philosophy40(4). 347–372. 10.1007/s10988‑017‑9213‑z
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-017-9213-z [Google Scholar]
  32. Kennedy, Christopher
    1999Projecting adjectives: The syntax and semantics of gradability and comparison. London: Taylor & Francis Group.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. 2015 A “de-fregean” semantics (and neo-Gricean pragmatics) for modified and unmodified numerals. Semantics and Pragmatics81. Article 10. 10.3765/sp.8.10
    https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.8.10 [Google Scholar]
  34. Krifka, Manfred
    1989 Nominal reference, temporal constitution and quantification in eventsemantics. InBartsch, Renate & van Benthem, J. F. A. K. & van Emde Boas, Peter (eds.), Semantics and contextual expression, 75–116. Dordrecht: Foris Publications. 10.1515/9783110877335‑005
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110877335-005 [Google Scholar]
  35. 1995 Common nouns: A contrastive analysis of English and Chinese. InCarlson, Gregory N. & Pelletier, Francis Jeffry (eds.), The generic book, 398–411. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. Landman, Fred
    2016 Iceberg semantics for count nouns and mass nouns: Classifiers, measures and portions. Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition Logic and Communication111. Article 6. 10.4148/1944‑3676.1107
    https://doi.org/10.4148/1944-3676.1107 [Google Scholar]
  37. Li, Peggy & Barner, David & Huang, Becky H.
    2008 Classifiers as count syntax: Individuation and measurement in the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. Language learning and development4(4). 249–290. 10.1080/15475440802333858
    https://doi.org/10.1080/15475440802333858 [Google Scholar]
  38. Li, Peggy & Dunham, Yarrow & Carey, Susan
    2009 Of substance: The nature of language effects on entity construal. Cognitive Psychology58(4). 487–524. 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.12.001
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.12.001 [Google Scholar]
  39. Li, XuPing
    2011On the semantics of classifiers in Chinese. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  40. 2013Numeral classifiers in Chinese. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 10.1515/9783110289336
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110289336 [Google Scholar]
  41. Lin, Jing & Schaeffer, Jeannette
    2018 Nouns are both mass and count: Evidence from unclassified nouns in adult and child Mandarin Chinese. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics3(1). Article no. 54. 10.5334/gjgl.406
    https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.406 [Google Scholar]
  42. Link, Godehard
    1983 The logical analysis of plurals and mass terms: A Lattice-theoretical approach. InBäuerle, Reiner & Schwarze, Christoph & von Stechow, Arnim (eds.), Meaning, use, and interpretation of language, 303–323. Berlin: W. de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110852820.302
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110852820.302 [Google Scholar]
  43. Liu, Chen-Sheng Luther
    2018 Projecting adjectives in Chinese. Journal of East Asian Linguistics27(1). 67–109. 10.1007/s10831‑018‑9166‑4
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10831-018-9166-4 [Google Scholar]
  44. Luo, Qiongpeng & Hsieh, Miao-Ling & Shi, Dingxu
    2017 Pre-classifier adjectival modification in Mandarin Chinese: A measurement-based analysis. Journal of East Asian Linguistics26(1). 1–36. 10.1007/s10831‑016‑9149‑2
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10831-016-9149-2 [Google Scholar]
  45. Nouwen, Rick
    2010 Two kinds of modified numerals. Semantics and Pragmatics31. Article 3. 10.3765/sp.3.3
    https://doi.org/10.3765/sp.3.3 [Google Scholar]
  46. Rett, Jessica
    2008Degree modification in natural language. New Brunswick: Rutgers University. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  47. 2014 The polysemy of measurement. Lingua1431. 242–266. 10.1016/j.lingua.2014.02.001
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2014.02.001 [Google Scholar]
  48. 2018 The semantics of many, much, few, and little. Language and Linguistic Compass12(1). 1–18. 10.1111/lnc3.12269
    https://doi.org/10.1111/lnc3.12269 [Google Scholar]
  49. Rothstein, Susan
    2010 Counting and the mass/count distinction. Journal of Semantics27(3). 343–397. 10.1093/jos/ffq007
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/ffq007 [Google Scholar]
  50. 2016 Counting and measuring: A theoretical and cross-linguistic account. Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication111. Article 8. 10.4148/1944‑3676.1106
    https://doi.org/10.4148/1944-3676.1106 [Google Scholar]
  51. 2017Semantics for counting and measuring. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9780511734830
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9780511734830 [Google Scholar]
  52. Sag, Yagmur
    2019The semantics of number marking: Reference to kinds, counting, and optional classifiers. New Brunswick: Rutgers University. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Schwarzschild, Roger
    1993 Plurals, presuppositions and the sources of distributivity. Natural Language Semantics2(3). 201–248. 10.1007/BF01256743
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01256743 [Google Scholar]
  54. 2006 The role of dimensions in the syntax of noun phrases. Syntax9(1). 67–110. 10.1111/j.1467‑9612.2006.00083.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9612.2006.00083.x [Google Scholar]
  55. Scontras, Gregory Charles
    2014The semantics of measurement. Cambridge: Harvard University. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  56. Solt, Stephanie
    2015 Q-adjectives and the semantics of quantity. Journal of Semantics32(2). 221–273. 10.1093/jos/fft018
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/fft018 [Google Scholar]
  57. Sutton, Peter & Filip, Hana
    2016 Counting in context: count/mass variation and restrictions on coercion in collective artifact nouns. InMoroney, Mary & Little, Carol-Rose & Collard, Jacob & Burgdorf, Dan (eds.), Proceedings of the 26th Semantics and Linguistic Theory Conference (SALT 26), 350–370. Ithaca: Cornell University. 10.3765/salt.v26i0.3796
    https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v26i0.3796 [Google Scholar]
  58. Tang, Chih-chen Jane
    2007 Modifier licensing and Chinese DP: A feature analysis. Language and Linguistics8(4). 967–1024.
    [Google Scholar]
  59. von Stechow, Arnim
    1984 Comparing semantic theories of comparison. Journal of Semantics3(1). 1–77. 10.1093/jos/3.1‑2.1
    https://doi.org/10.1093/jos/3.1-2.1 [Google Scholar]
  60. Wellwood, Alexis
    2014Measuring predicates. College Park: University of Maryland. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  61. 2015 On the semantics of comparison across categories. Linguistics and Philosophy38(1). 67–101. 10.1007/s10988‑015‑9165‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-015-9165-0 [Google Scholar]
  62. 2018 Structure preservation in comparatives. InSireemas Maspong, Brynhildur Stefansdottir, Katherine Blake & Forrest Davis (eds.), Proceedings of the 28th Semantics and Linguistic Theory Conference (SALT28), 78–99. Ithaca: Cornell University. 10.3765/salt.v28i0.4413
    https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v28i0.4413 [Google Scholar]
  63. 2019 WHAT more IS. Philosophical Perspectives32(1): 454–486. 10.1111/phpe.12121
    https://doi.org/10.1111/phpe.12121 [Google Scholar]
  64. Yang, Rong
    2001Common nouns, classifiers, and quantification in Chinese. New Brunswick: Rutgers University. (Doctoral dissertation.)
    [Google Scholar]
  65. Zhang, Niina Ning
    2013Classifier structures in Mandarin Chinese. Berlin: De Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110304992
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110304992 [Google Scholar]
  66. 2019 Complex indefinites and the projection of DP in Mandarin Chinese. Journal of East Asian Linguistics28(2). 179–210. 10.1007/s10831‑019‑09191‑7
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10831-019-09191-7 [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): classifiers; comparatives; degree semantics; mass-count neutrality; measurement
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error