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Title: Common Nouns, Classifiers and Quantification in Chinese
Authors: Yang, Rong
Keywords: Sino-Tibetan Languages
Chinese Language
Issue Date: 2001
Publisher: Rutgers University
Abstract: This dissertation investigates the internal composition of Chinese noun phrases from the perspective of syntax-semantics interface, as an inquiry into the nature of quantification in Chinese. In particular, we examine the meanings of Chinese common nouns, classifiers and quantificational determiners, bringing to light their contributions to the interpretation and quantificational structure of noun phrases as a whole. Chapter 1 introduces theoretical assumptions and outlines the organization of the dissertation. Chapter 2 investigates the semantics of Chinese common nouns, and provides empirical support to the Neocarlsonian approach from a cross-linguistic perspective. We argue that Chinese common nouns should be analyzed as basic kind- denoting terms, on a par with English bare nominals. For two well-known differences in interpretation between Chinese and English bare nominals, we show that they are best analyzed as consequences of well-attested cross-linguistic variations between the two languages, and thus do not constitute arguments against the Neocarlsonian approach. In particular, an extra definite reading observed on Chinese bare nominals in object-level contexts is derived from a type-lifting operation that is available for determinerless languages including Chinese. The apparent lack of an indefinite reading on a preverbal Chinese bare nominal is argued to follow from Chinese-particular factors concerning pro-drop and topic-prominence. In Chapter 3, we examine the syntax and semantics of numeral classifiers, as well as their function in object quantification within Chinese NPs. As Chinese common nouns are all kind-denoting mass nouns that do not correspond to sets of atoms, numeral classifiers are needed to individuate a level for counting and to identify the units out of which quantificational or numeric expressions can be built. This semantic function is captured by the introduction of a meaning definition for the numeral classifier, based on a formal theory proposed in Krifka 1995. Empirical data from Chinese are examined extensively, and syntactic motivations are presented for the semantic account. Chapter 4 studies characteristics of Chinese quantified NPs that are distinct from those of standard quantifiers. We suggest an analysis of Chinese quantified NPs as generalized quantifiers built up of plural individuals, and develop a compositional approach, with quantifiers contributing quantificational force and distributive operators introducing distributivity. We also show that numeral classifiers continue to play a crucial role in determining the behavior of Chinese quantified NPs with respect to distributivity and domain of quantification. Chapter 5 extends the scope of investigation to the domain of event quantification. We propose a new three-way typology of natural language common nouns, and claim that common nouns should be distinguished semantically in terms of the sort of entities they denote lexically. Cross-linguistic evidence is presented from two typologically distinct languages, including the distribution of nominal and verbal classifiers in Chinese and the selectional restrictions of a variety of predicates in English. We also claim that in a classifier language like Chinese, while the nominal classifier is needed to count individuals, the verbal classifier is used to count events, and that the complementary functions of the two classifiers impose a semantic restriction on the sort of entities they each can take as arguments. This is shown to be the key to explaining the distinctive distributions of nominal and verbal classifiers in Chinese.
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