Measure Noun constructions: An instance of semantically-driven grammaticalization
In a narrow sense, the term ‘Measure Noun' (MN) refers to such nouns as acre and kilo, which typically measure off a well-established and specific portion of the mass or entity specified in a following of-phrase, e.g. a kilo of apples. When used like this, the MN is generally considered to constitute the lexical head of the bi-nominal noun phrase. However, the notion of ‘MN' can be extended to include such expressions as a bunch of and heaps of, which, strictly speaking, do not designate a ‘measure', but display a more nebulous potential for quantification.The structural status of MNs in this broader sense then is far from straightforward and most grammatical reference works of English are either hesitant or silent with regard to the issue. Two main analytical options seem to suggest themselves. Either the MN is interpreted as constituting the head of the NP, with the of-phrase as a qualifier to this head, or the MN is analysed as a modifier, more specifically a quantifier, to the head, which in this case is the noun in the of-phrase.Starting from the structural analyses of MN-constructions offered by such linguists as Halliday and Langacker, my paper goes on to discuss a corpus study aimed at charting and elucidating the structural ambivalence observed in MN-constructions. The framework eventually opted for is that of ‘grammaticalization', since it provides the most comprehensive account for the developments displayed by MN-constructions, in that it brings to the fore the very intricate interplay between the lexical and the grammatical status of the MN. In addition, it also does justice to the diachronic dimension implied in the mechanisms of delexicalization and grammaticalization.
Keywords: quantitative profiles, vagueness, grammaticalization, delexicalization, emergent quantifiers
Published online: 06 January 2004
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