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      Quantity judgment and the mass-count distinction across languages: Advances, problems, and future directions for research


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          We review advances in the experimental study of the mass-count distinction and highlight problems that have emerged. First, we lay out what we see to be the scientific enterprise of studying the syntax and semantics of the mass-count distinction, and the assumptions we believe must be made if additional progress is to occur, especially as the empirical facts continue to grow in number and complexity. Second, we discuss the new landscape of cross-linguistic results that has been created by widespread use of the quantity judgment task, and what these results tell us about the nature of the mass-count distinction. Finally, we discuss the relationship between the mass-count distinction and non-linguistic cognition, and in particular the object-substance distinction.

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          Variability in Early Communicative Development

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              A cross-linguistic study of early word meaning: universal ontology and linguistic influence.

              M Imai (1997)
              This research concerns how children learn the distinction between substance names and object names. Quine (1969) proposed that children learn the distinction through learning the syntactic distinctions inherent in count/mass grammar. However, Soja et al. (1991) found that English-speaking 2-year-olds, who did not seem to have acquired count/mass grammar, distinguished objects from substances in a word extension task, suggesting a pre-linguistic ontological distinction. To test whether the distinction between object names and substance names is conceptually or linguistically driven, we repeated Soja et al.'s study with English- and Japanese-speaking 2-, 2.5-, and 4-year-olds and adults. Japanese does not make a count-mass grammatical distinction: all inanimate nouns are treated alike. Thus if young Japanese children made the object-substance distinction in word meaning, this would support the early ontology position over the linguistic influence position. We used three types of standards: substances (e.g., sand in an S-shape), simple objects (e.g., a kidney-shaped piece of paraffin) and complex objects (e.g., a wood whisk). The subjects learned novel nouns in neutral syntax denoting each standard entity. They were then asked which of the two alternatives--one matching in shape but not material and the other matching in material but not shape--would also be named by the same label. The results suggest the universal use of ontological knowledge in early word learning. Children in both languages showed differentiation between (complex) objects and substances as early as 2 years of age. However, there were also early cross-linguistic differences. American and Japanese children generalized the simple object instances and the substance instances differently. We speculate that children universally make a distinction between individuals and non-individuals in word learning but that the nature of the categories and the boundary between them is influenced by language.

                Author and article information

                Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
                Ubiquity Press
                18 May 2018
                : 3
                : 1
                : 63
                [1 ]Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest, Montreal, QC, H3G 1M8, CA
                [2 ]University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093-0109, US
                Copyright: © 2018 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

                : 02 October 2017
                : 22 February 2018
                Special collection: the interpretation of the mass-count distinction across languages and populations

                General linguistics,Linguistics & Semiotics
                quantity judgment,semantics,object-substance,mass-count,quantification


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