• Portions and countability: a crosslinguistic investigation

    Hanna de Vries (see profile) , George Tsoulas
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    We examine three constructions across several languages in which a mass noun is embedded in what appears to be a count environment, but the construction as a whole remains mass. We argue that the discussed phenomena - 'Q-noun' constructions like 'lots of water', bare measure constructions like 'kilos of sugar', and pluralised mass nouns in languages like Greek and Persian - all involve portioning-out of the embedded mass denotation. Adopting an overlap-based approach to the mass/count distinction (e.g. Rothstein 2011, Landman 2011, 2016, Khrizman et al 2015), we argue that the same portioning-out operator may result in either a count or a mass NP depending on whether (count) or not (mass) it is the syntactic head of the portion phrase. We provide a compositional semantics to account for this. The examined phenomena all share an inference of large quantity or abundance that, we argue, cannot be reduced to the lexical meaning of the portioning-out expression, nor to a multiplicity inference contributed by plural morphology. We show that our cases of mass portioning-out involve a total order ≤ on portion size and propose to analyse the abundance inference in terms of an uninformativity-based Quantity implicature, following the analysis of the positive form ("Mary is tall") in Rett's (2015) approach to adjectival gradability.
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