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English Quasi-Numeral Classifiers

A Corpus-Based Cognitive-Typological Study


Xu Zhang

This book is an interdisciplinary study of English binominal quantitative constructions based on English-Chinese comparison. Taking three perspectives, i.e. a functional-typological perspective, a cognitive approach, and a corpus-based method, it aims to unveil the hidden categorisation process behind the usage of English binominal quantitative constructions and to reveal the language universal in cognising the concepts of ‘Quantity’ and ‘Quality’. It argues against treating Chinese and English as members of two opposing typological camps concerning quantification modes (‘classifier languages’ versus ‘non-classifier languages’) and advocates to view the two languages as lying within a more extended and inclusive system, viz. a system of quantification and categorisation modes, or a Quantity-Quality continuum.

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1. Introduction


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1.  Introduction

1.1  Preliminaries

Classifiers have been a particular focus of interest in functional typology and cognitive linguistics. Illustrations of a typical type of classifiers, numeral classifiers (NCs), can be found in Chinese.1 When co-occurring with numerals or demonstratives, Chinese nouns have to be preceded by classifiers, which generally indicate a physical feature. For instance, in (1), when being counted, ‘rope’, ‘snake’, ‘road’, and ‘news’ all follow the classifier tiáo, which indicates a ‘long’ shape. Similarly, ‘paper’. ‘skin’, ‘face’, and ‘bed’ all occur after the classifier zhāng, which designates ‘flatness’ in shape.

In mainstream typological studies on classifiers (e.g. Aikhenvald, 2000; Allan, 1977; Craig, 1986), it is usually believed that the linguistic device of classifiers is exclusive to certain languages, while English, like most Indo-European languages, is considered to have no NCs. An ← 13 | 14 → obvious piece of evidence is that while Chinese obligatorily uses classifiers before nouns are counted, English can enumerate nouns directly, e.g. ‘one snake’ and ‘three faces’. Thus, typologists often divide world languages into two types: ‘classifier languages’ and ‘non-classifier languages’.

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