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Title:Mass Matters
Author(s):Middleton, Erica Lee
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Bock, J. Kathryn
Department / Program:Psychology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Language, Linguistics
Abstract:How conceptual knowledge is encoded in and expressed by language is a core debate in the psychology of language. The count-mass noun distinction is a key focus in this debate. Mass nouns (i.e., invariant singulars such as grass, air, milk, kerosene) typically refer to substances whereas count nouns (e.g., nouns which appear freely in the singular and plural form such as leaf/leaves, rainbow/rainbows, bottle/bottles) generally refer to enumerable objects. According to one view, grammatical differences between count and mass nouns are rooted in meaning differences. By an alternative view intrinsic syntactic features govern grammatical differences between count and mass nouns. Evidence for the syntactic feature view includes cases of nouns whose meaning properties do not align with their grammatical properties (e.g., mass nouns that refer to potentially enumerable objects such as furniture, firewood, aspirin, bacon). The goal of the present work is to evaluate the syntactic feature account against the meaning account by assessing how mass nouns impact verb number in grammatical agreement. Participants repeated and completed sentence fragments which contained mass heads or local nouns (e.g., The firewood beside the rugs; The rugs beside the firewood). In the full sentences produced, the number of the agreeing verb was assessed. The first two experiments explored whether mass nouns (e.g., firewood) following plural subject nouns (e.g., The rugs beside the firewood) are associated with more singular verb errors than controls. Experiment 3 evaluated whether mass nouns heading subject phrases (e.g., "The firewood beside the rugs") lead to more singular verb agreement than controls. Experiment 4 compared the agreement properties of mass and count nouns whose number semantics tended toward plurality. The final experiment explored possible meaning differences underlying the distinct grammar of mass and count nouns. The results suggest that the grammar of mass nouns is not regulated by intrinsic syntactic features. Rather, the grammatical distinction may be motivated by---and originate in---noun and noun phrase semantics.
Issue Date:2008
Description:91 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3347451
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2008

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