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Auteur: Miho MANO

Exploring the Noun-classifier Continuum in Japanese

Abstract/Résumé: This paper discusses the syntactic and semantic properties of Japanese numeral classifiers identical to their nominal counterparts, and suggests that there exists gradience between classifiers and nouns. Japanese is well known for having various numeral classifiers (cf. Downing 1996, Iida 1999, Aikhenvald 2000), and nouns cannot be directly modified by numerals but must be quantified by classifiers. Typical numeral classifiers (CLs), e.g. -hiki (for animals), are suffixes that cannot appear without numerals, i.e. bound morphemes. However, there are some classifiers that are morphologically identical to their nominal counterparts, e.g. kyoku “music” (for songs), which are called “nouny classifiers” (NCs) in this paper., Since only a few attempts have so far been made at explaining NCs (cf. Narita 1990, Tojo 2012) despite their importance, we explore the properties of NCs in this paper. It is difficult to distinguish NCs from nouns in Japanese. One reason is that some NCs have different meanings from their nominal counterparts, but others do not. Several definitions of CLs are suggested in previous studies (Matsumoto 1991, Iida 1999, Kageyama et al. 2011, Mano & Yonezawa in press); however, this paper shows that all these definitions have difficulty distinguishing NCs from nouns because NCs and nouns form a continuum. We select the NCs that satisfy the requirements for CLs suggested by Mano and Yonezawa (in press), and examine their syntactic and semantic properties, focusing on their differences (we will refer to the NCs close to typical CLs as “typical NCs” and the ones similar to nouns as “peripheral NCs”). Our findings are as follows. First, several types of relations are observed between numerals and peripheral NCs, while typical NCs do not show such variations. Second, peripheral NCs tend not to co-occur with quantified nouns, especially when they appear in the same forms, e.g. ?san-daigaku-no daigaku (3-university-GEN university) “three universities,” because of semantic redundancy; on the other hand, typical NCs do. Third, some of the peripheral NCs, notably the ones expressing “roles” such as -giin “assembly member,” occur only with limited numerals; however, typical NCs do not show such restriction. These facts show that there is gradience between classifiers and nouns and that the NCs in Japanese are in the process of grammaticalization.