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Conference Information

Full Title: Mass-Count and Count-Mass Transfers

Location: Split, Croatia
Start Date: 18-Sep-2013 - 21-Sep-2013
Contact: Timotheus Vermote
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: ‘The Flexibility of the Mass-Count Distinction: The Lexicon-Grammar Interface, and the Issue of Transfers’

Convenors: Timotheus Vermote & Peter Lauwers (Ghent University)

On the topic of the mass-count distinction, three main issues remain heavily debated to date. First, what underlies the mass-count distinction, what motivates it, what do mass and count nouns denote? (ontology vs. quantification, the problem of collective nouns, etc.) Second, which place in the linguistic system should the mass-count distinction get? (the lexicalist vs. the grammatical view) Third, how can the morphosyntactic flexibility of many nouns in that respect be accounted for? (polysemy, metonymy, transfers, etc.)

Obviously, these three issues are not unrelated, and the way each will be tackled will have implications for the others. This workshop, however, focuses especially on the latter question. Although, intuitively, the mass-count distinction seems a matter of the lexicon (some nouns being mass, others being count), many nouns appear to be morphosyntactically flexible and to accommodate effortlessly both usages.

That variation has been studied from two points of view. On the one hand, it has been described as a matter of ‘transfers’, best conceptualized as the effects of various imaginary ‘machines’, such as the ‘Universal Grinder’ (Pelletier 1975, 1991), the ‘Universal Packer’ (Bunt 1985, Jackendoff 1991, Pelletier 1991) or the ‘Universal Sorter’ (Bunt 1985). On the other hand, authors such as Ostler & Atkins (1991), Nunberg & Zaenen (1992), Copestake & Briscoe (1995), Kleiber (1999) and Nicolas (2002) have studied the issue of systematic variation between mass and count inside certain semantic fields (especially that of nouns denoting animals > fur, meat, etc.), which they described in terms of ‘lexical implication rules’, ‘systematic or semi-productive polysemy’, ‘language-specific pragmatic conventions’, ‘lexical licenses’, etc.

These are many different accounts, each with divergent implications as far as the localization of the mass-count distinction (along the lexicon-grammar axis) is concerned. This workshop wishes to reassess these different views, as well as others, in the light of complementary methodologies such as corpus linguistics, experimental psycholinguistics and comparative studies. Topics include, but are not limited to:

- Different theoretical models for mass-count flexibility, and their morphosyntactic implications
- The role of semantic fields as intermediate levels, halfway between lexical and grammatical semantics
- Empirical studies (corpus research, psycholinguistic experimentation, acquisition) aiming at confirming or invalidating the separation between ‘allegedly entrenched vs. creative transfers’, and the role of factors such as frequency, and contextual clues (sentential context)
- The link between mass-count flexibility and the availability of specific determiners (e.g., to what extent does the existence of a specialized mass article, such as the partitive in French, facilitate count > mass transfers?)
- From an onomasiological point of view: which are the possible semantic (or semantic-pragmatic) effects of mass-count flexibility in a certain language, and how are they achieved by alternative linguistic means in other languages (affixation, composition, e.g. the diminutive in Dutch as a marker of countability)
- The link between plurality and countability of the NP, and more specifically the case of ‘uncountable plurals’
- Etc.

Accordingly, the workshop will host both empirical case studies and theorization attempts. Participants are welcome to express themselves in French or English.
Linguistic Subfield: Morphology; Psycholinguistics; Semantics; Syntax; Text/Corpus Linguistics
LL Issue: 23.4353

This is a session of the following meeting:
46th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea

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