Linguistic Analysis of Chinese

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Apr 20, 2019 14:05
Linguistic Analysis of Chinese

Mandarin Chinese work differently from languages that make a fully grammaticalized count-mass distinction such as Italian and English. It is a generalized classifier language in which the nouns need to be combined with a classifier and a numeral. Both count and mass nouns can occur in the bare singular form as in the following example: ...

The plural marking –men is optional with humans but obligatory with the pronouns referring to humans, as in the examples: ...

The way Chinese makes a distinction between mass and count nouns has been object of an intense debate. As all the Chinese nouns can be used in the bare singular form, it has been argued that Chinese has only mass noun. Cheng and Sybesma (1999) have maintained that there is a clear distinction between the mass and count nouns They noted two patterns of linguistic behavior that make possible to distinguish between a mass and a count noun. First, the modification marker de combines with [massifier + N] but not with [count-classifier + N].

Second, some adjectives can modify massifiers but can`t do the same with count classifiers; as in the following example:

As shown below, the distinction between mass and coun in Chinese is syntactical in nature (classifers are employed) and does not pertain morphology. Bare singular forms can be used with both mass and count nouns. In English and Italian the distinction between mass and count nouns employ both syntactical and morphology elements. Unlike Chinese, bare singular can be used only with mass nouns. More importantly, there is a remarkable difference in the way they account for the feature of atomicity. In English and in Italian, atomic nouns can be either count or mass while non-atomic nouns are always mass. In Chinese atomic nouns are count while non-atomic nouns are mass.