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Forests and Trees: the Formal Semantics of Collective Categorization (ROCKY)


9 October 2019
11:00 - 12:30
Drift 23, room 0.10

Mereological choices for count nouns and mass nouns – David Nicolas

DATE: 9th October 2019, 11.00 – 12.30

LOCATION: Drift 23, room 0.10

TITLE: Mereological choices for count nouns and mass nouns

AUTHOR: David Nicolas (Institut Jean Nicod, ENS, EHESS, PSL, CNRS)

ABSTRACT: Many semantic theories about count nouns and mass nouns use mereological notions like part and sum. At the lexical level, count nouns are often deemed to be “atomic” (a part of a cat could not be a cat), while mass nouns are sometimes deemed to be “distributive” (any part of some water would also be water). At the compositional level, one sometimes uses “individual” sums as the denotations of plural count nouns, and “material” sums as the denotations of mass nouns. Are mereological notions like these intimately related, or should they be distinguished?

In this talk, we examine how certain key theoretical choices determine answers to this question. We compare two broad approaches. The first (inspired by Link 1983) is eventually forced to distinguish three parthood relations: one specific to mass nouns, one specific to plurals, and a more ordinary parthood relation. It cannot accommodate an intuition of co-reference between certain mass terms and plurals. The second (inspired by Gillon 1992) uses additional semantic machinery, namely coverings. This allows it to have a single parthood relation for mass nouns and plurals and to accommodate the intuition of co-reference. We investigate notably several issues that arise concerning this kind of approach.