Patterns of Imagery in Language
Edited By Marek Kuźniak, Agnieszka Libura and Michał Szawerna
Levels of countability: A corpus based study
Jacek Woźny University of Wrocław
The goal of the paper is to investigate the fuzziness (membership gradience) of the conceptual categories of things and substances, linguistically coded as countable and uncountable nouns. The method is based on the statistical coefficient of APRS (average perceived referent size), which is estimated by analysis of a random sample of corpus texts containing a particular noun. The comparison of APRS for a group of English countable and uncountable nouns shows that countability is indeed gradable. The method can also explain why some English nouns like peas, flowers and pebbles are countable and others like maize, grass and gravel are not, despite the fact that the size and other physical qualities of their referents are practically equal.
Keywords: corpus study, statistics, countability
Joosten (2003) divides the linguistic enquiry into count/uncount distinction into four major schools: grammatical (Bloomfield 1933), ontological (Quine 1960), conceptual-semantic (for example, Wierzbicka 1988, 1991; Langacker 1987; Berezowski 1999) and contextual (for example, Ware 1979). He summarizes his paper as follows: “the count-mass distinction cannot be reduced to an exclusively grammatical, ontological, conceptual-semantic, or contextual issue. Instead, it should be analyzed as a multidimensional phenomenon” (Joosten 2003: 227).
While I agree that an enlightened, wide-scope approach should be paramount of any scientific endeavour, I think Joosten underestimates the conceptual-semantic approach, by not noticing that it is in fact based on an intricate connection of...
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