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  • Keywords: verbal classifiers x
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Marcin Kilarski and Marc Allassonnière-Tang

Classifiers are partly grammaticalized systems of classification of nominal referents. The choice of a classifier can be based on such criteria as animacy, sex, material, and function as well as physical properties such as shape, size, and consistency. Such meanings are expressed by free or bound morphemes in a variety of morphosyntactic contexts, on the basis of which particular subtypes of classifiers are distinguished. These include the most well-known numeral classifiers which occur with numerals or quantifiers, as in Mandarin Chinese yí liàng chē (one clf.vehicle car) ‘one car’. The other types of classifiers are found in contexts other than quantification (noun classifiers), in possessive constructions (possessive classifiers), in verbs (verbal classifiers), as well as with deictics (deictic classifiers) and in locative phrases (locative classifiers). Classifiers are found in languages of diverse typological profiles, ranging from the analytic languages of Southeast Asia and Oceania to the polysynthetic languages of the Americas. Classifiers are also found in other modalities (i.e., sign languages and writing systems). Along with grammatical gender, classifiers constitute one of the two main types of nominal classification. Although classifiers and gender differ in some ways, with the presence of a classifier not being reflected in agreement (i.e., the form of associated words), in others they exhibit common patterns. Thus, both types of nominal classification markers contribute to the expansion of the lexicon and the organization of discourse. Shared patterns also involve common paths of evolution, as illustrated by the grammaticalization of classifier systems into gender systems. In turn, particular types of classifiers resemble various means of lexical categorization found in non-classifier languages, including measure words, class terms, as well as semantic agreement between the verb and direct object. All these three means of classification can be viewed in terms of a continuum of grammaticalization, ranging from lexical means to partly grammaticalized classifiers and to grammaticalized gender systems. Although evidence of classifiers in non-Indo-European languages has been available since the 16th century, it was only the end of the 20th century that saw a formative stage in their study. Since then, classifier systems have offered fascinating insights into the diversity of language structure, including such key phenomena as categorization, functionality, grammaticalization, and the distinction between lexicon and grammar as well as the language-internal and external factors underlying the evolution of morphosyntactic complexity.


Numerical expressions are linguistic forms related to numbers or quantities, which directly reflect the relationship between linguistic symbols and mathematical cognition. Featuring some unique properties, numeral systems are somewhat distinguished from other language subsystems. For instance, numerals can appear in various grammatical positions, including adjective positions, determiner positions, and argument positions. Thus, linguistic research on numeral systems, especially the research on the syntax and semantics of numerical expressions, has been a popular and recurrent topic. For the syntax of complex numerals, two analyses have been proposed in the literature. The traditional constituency analysis maintains that complex numerals are phrasal constituents, which has been widely accepted and defended as a null hypothesis. The nonconstituency analysis, by contrast, claims that a complex numeral projects a complementative structure in which a numeral is a nominal head selecting a lexical noun or a numeral-noun combination as its complement. As a consequence, additive numerals are transformed from full NP coordination. Whether numerals denote numbers or sets has aroused a long-running debate. The number-denoting view assumes that numerals refer to numbers, which are abstract objects, grammatically equivalent to nouns. The primary issue with this analysis comes from the introduction of a new entity, numbers, into the model of ontology. The set-denoting view argues that numerals refer to sets, which are equivalent to adjectives or quantifiers in grammar. One main difficulty of this view is how to account for numerals in arithmetic sentences.