At first glance, Nez Perce looks like a language lacking any correlate of the traditional mass-count distinction. All Nez Perce nouns behave like canonical count nouns in three ways: all nouns combine with numerals without an overt measure phrase, all NPs may host plural features, and all NPs may host adjectives like big and small. I show that Nez Perce nevertheless makes two countability distinctions in noun semantics. A sums-based (cumulativity) distinction is revealed in the interaction of quantifiers with plural; a parts-based (divisiveness) distinction is revealed in certain quantity judgments. Both types of evidence involve complex structures to which language learners likely have little to no actual exposure. I suggest that Nez Perce furnishes a poverty of the stimulus argument in favor of semantic countability distinctions as a language universal
January 1, 2016
Deal, Amy Rose. 2016. Do all languages make countability distinctions? Evidence from Nez Perce. In Nadine Bade, Polina Berezovskaya, and Anthea Scholler (eds.), Proceedings from Sinn und Bedeutung 20, pp. 180-197. Semantics Archive.