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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Definite Spans and Blocking in Classifier Languages


This paper presents a novel analysis of definite noun phrases in numeral classifier languages without definite articles. The motivation for this analysis comes from the classifier-modifier construction (CMC) in Thai, in which a predicative modifier can license a bare classifier, resulting in a definite interpretation. I argue that the definite readings are due to a null choice-functional determiner (Reinhart 1997, Winter 1997), which takes the modifier as its complement (Kayne 1994). I propose that the modifier licenses the bare classifier, otherwise prohibited, because head raising relative clause structures bleed the environment for a D-Clf-N span to be realized as a bare noun (Brody 2000, Svenonius 2012, a.o.). I argue that this coalescence-based account of definite noun phrases, specifically definite bare nouns, is an improvement on accounts based on head movement (Cheng and Sybesma 1999) or semantic type-shifting (Chierchia 1998). This analysis correctly derives the generalization that languages allowing definite bare classifiers do not allow definite bare nouns in most cases, captures Chierchia’s nominal typology without resorting to semantic variation, and opens up new accounts for the apparent optionality of functional morphology in analytic languages.

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