Counting banana trees in Ch’ol: Exploring the syntax and semantics of sortal classifiers
Alan Bale, Jessica Coon, Nicolás Arcos López
June 2016

This paper discusses evidence from the Mayan language Ch’ol that the choice of sortal numeral classifier in counting expressions determines the denotation of the noun. For example, when the classifier -ts’ijty is used with the noun ja’as, it is understood that ja’as denotes a set of bananas, whereas when -tyejk is used, ja’as is understood as denoting a set of banana trees. Critically, it can be demonstrated that this effect on the meaning of the noun is non-local in the sense that it occurs within a syntactic domain that is completely independent of the classifier. Furthermore, there are strong arguments that the meanings of all sortal classifiers like -ts’ijty and -tyejk are essentially the same, namely the cardinality measure function μ#. We hypothesize that there are two possible explanations for the non-local effects of classifiers. One is that the lexical interpretation function is sensitive to non-local syntactic contexts, much like vocabulary insertion rules within Distributed Morphology (Halle and Marantz, 1993). The other is that there are learned, pragmatic conventions that influence how speakers interpret an implicit context-set variable (Westerstahl, 1985). We discuss evidence from noun phrase ellipsis which favours the latter explanation.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003057
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Draft
keywords: classifier, counting, context sensitivity, mayan, numerals, semantics, syntax
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