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Does Mass Count Anymore?

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On the Acquisition of the Mass/Count Distinction in Arabic

image of Brill's Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics

The theoretical literature on the mass/count distinction in Palestinian-Arabic (PA) is extremely scarce, and the psycholinguistic perspective has never been explored. In this paper, we report results from an experiment exploring the mass/count distinction in 48 (aged 6;6–17;04) young and adult speakers of PA. Using an adaptation of Barner & Snedeker’s (2005) Quantity-Judgment task, we show that while PA-speaking adults are essentially identical to English-speaking adults, PA-speaking children behave dramatically different from both adult PA speakers and from English-acquiring children. We suggest that these results may reflect a process of language change currently taking place in PA. We further propose two possible sources for the process. The first involves the fact that the grammaticization of mass/count in PA is rather marginal, as indicated by the relative paucity of syntactic structures encoding the distinction. Alternatively, our data may reflect a change process involving a relaxation of obligatory number-marking in cardinality contexts. Finally, we outline a research-program aimed to test these hypotheses.

Affiliations: 1: Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva ; 2: Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva


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