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The Cognitive Basis of the Mass-Count Distinction: Evidence from Bare Nouns

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Chapter Summary

The naive view of the linguistic mass-count distinction has been that it reflects a cognitive distinction between homogeneous matter which lacks units for counting, and discrete entities which form atomic units and thus can be counted. This chapter tightens the connection between the mass-count distinction and its cognitive basis. It discusses Karitiana, a language that does not have nominal pluralization and does not have any formal masscount distinction in the structure of nouns or noun phrases, yet semantically distinguishes nouns which can be counted from nouns which cannot. The chapter brings data from Modern Hebrew, a language which has plural nominal morphology, but where, like in Karitiana, countability is not reflected by pluralization, but rather by a semantic identification of stable units. It concludes that fake mass nouns do not distort after all the correspondence between a clear cognitive distinction and the mass-count linguistic distinction.

Keywords: cognitive distinction; Karitiana; mass-count distinction; Modern Hebrew; plural nominal morphology



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