Classifiers and noun classes: semantics

Aikhenvald, A.Y. (2006) Classifiers and noun classes: semantics. In: Brown, Keith, (ed.) Encyclopedia of languages and linguistics. Elsevier, Oxford, UK, pp. 463-471.

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Abstract

Almost all languages have some grammatical means for the linguistic categorization of nouns and nominals. The continuum of noun categorization devices covers a range of devices, from the lexical numeral classifiers of Southeast Asia to the highly grammaticalized gender agreement classes of Indo-European languages. They have a similar semantic basis, and one can develop from the other. They provide a unique insight into how people categorize the world through their language in terms of universal semantic parameters involving humanness, animacy, sex, shape, form, consistency, and functional properties.

Noun categorization devices are morphemes that occur in surface structures under specifiable conditions, and denote some salient perceived or imputed characteristics of the entity to which an associated noun refers (Allan, 1977: 285). They are restricted to classifier constructions, morphosyntactic units (e.g., noun phrases of different kinds, verb phrases, or clauses) that require the presence of a particular kind of morpheme, the choice of which is dictated by the semantic characteristics of the referent of the nominal head of a noun phrase.

Noun categorization devices come in various guises. We distinguish noun classes, noun classifiers, numeral classifiers, classifiers in possessive constructions, and verbal classifiers. Two relatively rare types are locative and deictic classifiers. They share a common semantic core and differ in the morphosyntactic contexts of their use and in their preferred semantic features.

Research Background: This article is a concise and encyclopaedic summary of grammatical means for the linguistic categorization of nouns and nominals based on original work by Aikhenvald. The continuum of noun categorization devices covers a range of devices, from the lexical numeral classifiers of Southeast Asia to the highly grammaticalized gender agreement classes of Indo-European languages. They provide a unique insight into how people categorize the world through their language in terms of universal semantic parameters involving humanness, animacy, sex, shape, form, consistency, and functional properties.

Research Contribution: The main contribution of this article is the formulation of parameters of variation and semantics of noun categorization devices across several hundred of the world's languages. The article provides original insights into human categorization of nominal entities and culturally relevant parameters of categorization, which may also be influenced by social and physical environment.

Research Significance: This article is part of the fundamental Encyclopaedia of Languages and Linguistics which is a major reference source in the area of linguistics, languages and cognitive and behavioural studies. Noun categorization devices come in various guises. We distinguish noun classes, noun classifiers, numeral classifiers, classifiers in possessive constructions, and verbal classifiers. Two relatively rare types are locative and deictic classifiers. They share a common semantic core and differ in the morphosyntactic contexts of their use and in their preferred semantic features. This article breaks new grounds in offering a comprehensive empirically based approach to human categorization of entities, and correlations between language and culture. It is widely quoted and considered a major reference for the typology of categorization devices.

Item ID: 9361
Item Type: Book Chapter (Reference)
ISBN: 978-0-08-044299-0
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This publication does not have an abstract. The first three paragraphs of the publication are displayed as the abstract.

Date Deposited: 06 Jul 2010 02:19
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2004 Linguistics > 200407 Lexicography @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9502 Communication > 950201 Communication Across Languages and Culture @ 100%
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