Bare classifiers and definiteness
A cross-linguistic investigation
In some (numeral) classifier languages, a classifier may occur “bare” (i.e. with a noun but without a numeral) and the nominal expression receives a definite interpretation. On the basis of evidence from Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Cheng and Sybesma (1999) hypothesize that classifier languages exhibit either the bare classifier or the bare noun pattern for definite reference, but not both. To evaluate this hypothesis against more typologically diverse languages, a parallel elicitation study of three non-Sinitic languages was conducted — Vietnamese, Hmong and Bangla — as well as two geographical varieties of Cantonese, focusing on the definite interpretation of bare classifier and bare noun patterns. The results show that although the use of bare classifier patterns for definite reference is a cross-linguistically connected phenomenon, there is more variation than previously described in the alternation between definite bare classifier and bare noun patterns, and that the preference for one pattern over another may receive functional/ pragmatic explanations.
Keywords: classifiers, definiteness, grammaticalization, bare nouns
Published online: 21 July 2011
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