Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1606-822X
  • E-ISSN: 2309-5067



It is controversial whether a classifier (C) or measure word (M) in Chinese forms a constituent first with Num (numeral) or N in a [Num C/M N] phrase. This paper reviews evidence for the [Num C/M] constituency from modern Chinese and then provides evidence from historical and typological perspectives. Under the [Num C/M] constituency, not only the C/M word orders attested in Chinese history, but also all those attested elsewhere, can be straightforwardly accounted for by the head parameter, while such simplicity is unattainable under the [C/M N] constituency. In addition, fresh evidence is obtained from the internal word order within a complex numeral; e.g. ‘30’ is base-final, with () and base () entering into a multiplicative function, . The same multiplicative function exists between Num and C/M, e.g. ‘3 C flower’ = , and ‘3 dozen flower’ = . C/M and bases are thus unified as multiplicands, an insight further supported by the consistent correlation between the -final order and the C/M-final order throughout the history of Chinese. A closer examination of the 103 classifier languages in Greenberg (1990[1978]) further reveals that, among the 52 languages whose numeral systems and C/M word orders can be obtained, the synchronization between the numeral base and C/M is nearly universal. The base-C/M unification as multiplicands and base-C/M synchronization in word order strongly suggest that Num and C/M form a single constituent.

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Keyword(s): classifier; constituency; head-parameter; measure word; multiplication; numerals
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