Chapter published in:Mass and Count in Linguistics, Philosophy, and Cognitive Science
Edited by Friederike Moltmann
[Language Faculty and Beyond 16] 2020
► pp. 191–224
Countability shifts and abstract nouns
The paper examines the mass-count distinction in abstract nouns, starting from the corpus-derived observation that most of the nouns that can be used in count or mass syntactic contexts (“elastic nouns”) are (arguably) abstract. The paper evaluates various tests for mass-count status and different criteria for “abstractness”, proposing seven semi-productive meaning shifts that can result in a transition from mass to count or vice-versa. Section 4.2 addresses the relation between abstract nouns and kinds (are bare abstract terms “names of kinds”? What are their instances? Are they always kinds, even as predicates? What types of meaning shifts are applicable to them?). The possibility of a degree argument is also discussed: some count quantifiers over abstract mass nouns range over degrees, but not all abstract nouns have this option. We use the Bochum Countability Lexicon to detect elastic nouns and classify them via morphological affixes, identifying some possible meaning alternations.
Keywords: semantics, mass-count distinction, countability, meaning-shifts, abstract nouns, corpus linguistics, BECL
Published online: 17 December 2020
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