Events and the Ontology of Individuals: Verbs as a Source of Individuating Mass and Count Nouns
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CitationBarner, David, Laura Wagner, and Jesse Snedeker. 2008. Events and the ontology of individuals: Verbs as a source of individuating mass and count nouns. Cognition 106(2): 805-832.
AbstractWhat does mass-count syntax contribute to the interpretation of noun phrases (NPs), and how much of NP meaning is contributed by lexical items alone? Many have argued that count syntax specifies reference to countable individuals (e.g., cats) while mass syntax specifies reference to unindividuated entities (e.g., water). We evaluated this claim using the quantity judgment method, and tested the interpretation of words used in mass and count syntax that described either protracted, "durative" events (e.g., mass: some dancing; count: a dance), or instantaneous, "punctual" events (e.g., mass: some jumping; count: a jump). For durative words, participants judged, for example, that six brief dances are more dances but less dancing than two long dances, thus showing a significant difference in their interpretation of the count and mass usages. However, for punctual words, participants judged, for example, that six small jumps are both more jumps and more jumping than two long jumps, resulting in no difference due to mass-count syntax. Further, when asked which dimensions are important for comparing quantities of durative and punctual events, participants ranked number as first in importance for durative and punctual words presented in count syntax, but also for punctual words presented in mass syntax. These results indicate that names for punctual events individuate when used in either mass or count syntax, and thus provide evidence against the idea that mass syntax forces an unindividuated construal. They also indicate that event punctuality as encoded by verbs is importantly linked to the individuation of NPs, and may access a common underlying ontology of individuals.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:3207707
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