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Accounts of the count–mass distinction: A critical survey

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SummaryThe issue of what is usually, but also misleadingly called the count–mass distinction, i.e. the distinction between nouns that can be counted (e.g. a car, two cars, many cars) and nouns that cannot (e.g. *a sand, *two sands, *many sands, sand, much sand), has been addressed and accounted for in different ways. This paper gives a critical survey of four main theoretical views on the distinction and points out that each of them is problematic in some way. It is argued that that the count–mass distinction should not be reduced to an exclusively grammatical, ontological, semantic, or contextual issue. A proper characterisation of the distinction can only be given if its multidimensional character is fully acknowledged and if parameters such as basic count- or masshood, degree of lexicalisation, conceptualisation, and (non-)arbitrariness are taken into account.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/li.26.1.11joo

Affiliations: FWO-Vlaanderen/KU Leuven

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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