Bare classifiers and definiteness: A cross-linguistic investigation

Andrew Simpson, Hooi Ling Soh, Hiroki Nomoto

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    39 Scopus citations


    In some (numeral) classifier languages, a classifier may occur " bare" (i.e. with a noun but without a numeral) and the nominal expression receives a definite interpretation. On the basis of evidence from Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Cheng and Sybesma (1999) hypothesize that classifier languages exhibit either the bare classifier or the bare noun pattern for definite reference, but not both. To evaluate this hypothesis against more typologically diverse languages, a parallel elicitation study of three non-Sinitic languages was conducted - Vietnamese, Hmong and Bangla - as well as two geographical varieties of Cantonese, focusing on the definite interpretation of bare classifier and bare noun patterns. The results show that although the use of bare classifier patterns for definite reference is a cross-linguistically connected phenomenon, there is more variation than previously described in the alternation between definite bare classifier and bare noun patterns, and that the preference for one pattern over another may receive functional/ pragmatic explanations.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)168-193
    Number of pages26
    JournalStudies in Language
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 2011

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    * The research on Hmong and Cantonese for this paper was supported by the College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota, through an Imagine Fund Award (2009-10) to Hooi Ling Soh. The authors would like to thank all the native speakers of Bangla, Vietnamese, Hmong and Cantonese who participated in the study, and to audiences in Ho Chi Minh City, Harvard, and Hong Kong, where this earlier versions of this work was presented in workshops and conferences.

    Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


    • Bare nouns
    • Classifiers
    • Definiteness
    • Grammaticalization


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