The semantics of mass-predicates

Noûs 33 (1):46-91 (1999)
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Along with many other languages, English has a relatively straightforward grammatical distinction between mass-occurrences of nouns and their countoccurrences. As the mass-count distinction, in my view, is best drawn between occurrences of expressions, rather than expressions themselves, it becomes important that there be some rule-governed way of classifying a given noun-occurrence into mass or count. The project of classifying noun-occurrences is the topic of Section II of this paper. Section III, the remainder of the paper, concerns the semantic differences between nouns in their mass-occurrences and those in their count-occurrences. As both the name view and the mixed view are, in my opinion, subject to serious difficulties discussed in Section III.1,I defend a version of the predicate view. Traditionally, nouns in their singular count-occurrences are also analyzed as playing the semantic role of a predicate. How, then, does the predicate view preserve the intuitive difference between nouns in their mass- and those in their count-occurrences? I suggest, in Section III.2, that there are different kinds of predicates: mass-predicates, e.g. ‘is hair’, singular count-predicates, e.g. ‘is a hair’, and plural count-predicates, e.g. ‘are hairs’. Mass-predicates and count-predicates, in my view, are not reducible to each other. The remainder of Section III takes a closer look at the differences and interrelations between these different kinds of predicates. Mass-predicates and count-predicates differ from each other truth-conditionally, and these truth-conditional differences turn out to have interesting implications, in particular concerning the part-whole relation and our practices of counting. But mass- and count-predicates are also related to each other through systematic entailment relations; these entailment relations are examined in Section III.4.
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